Archives for category: Short Story

11.5.15.SIXTYTHIRD.NOOK

This is an ebook adaptation of Lisa Mason’s novelette, “The Sixty-Third Anniversary of Hysteria,” published in Full Spectrum 5 (Bantam). A Postscript and a list of Research Sources follow.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Bast Book
Copyright 2012 by Lisa Mason.
All rights reserved.
PUBLISHING HISTORY
Bast Books ebook edition published March 2012
Praise for Books by Lisa Mason
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories
“Offers everything you could possibly want, from more traditional science fiction and fantasy tropes to thought-provoking explorations of gender issues and pleasing postmodern humor…This is a must-read collection.”
—The San Francisco Review of Books
“Lisa Mason might just be the female Phillip K. Dick. Like Dick, Mason’s stories are far more than just sci-fi tales, they are brimming with insight into human consciousness and the social condition….a sci-fi collection of excellent quality….you won’t want to miss it.”
—The Book Brothers Review Blog
“Fantastic book of short stories….Recommended.”
—Reader Review
“I’m quite impressed, not only by the writing, which gleams and sparkles, but also by [Lisa Mason’s] versatility . . . Mason is a wordsmith . . . her modern take on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is a hilarious gem! [This collection] sparkles, whirls, and fizzes. Mason is clearly a writer to follow!”
—Amazing Stories
Summer of Love, A Time Travel
A San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of the Year
A Philip K. Dick Award Finalist
“Remarkable. . . .a whole array of beautifully portrayed characters along the spectrum from outright heroism to villainy. . . .not what you expected of a book with flowers in its hair. . . the intellect on display within these psychedelically packaged pages is clear-sighted, witty, and wise.”
—Locus Magazine
“A fine novel packed with vivid detail, colorful characters, and genuine insight.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Captures the moment perfectly and offers a tantalizing glimpse of its wonderful and terrible consequences.”
—The San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliantly crafted. . . .An engrossing tale spun round a very clever concept.”
—Katharine Kerr, author of Days of Air and Darkness
“Just imagine The Terminator in love beads, set in the Haight-Ashbury ‘hood of 1967.”
—Entertainment Weekly
“Mason has an astonishing gift. Her characters almost walk off the page. And the story is as significant as anyone could wish. This book will surely be on the prize ballots.”
—Analog
“A priority purchase.”
—Library Journal
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel
A New York Times Notable Book
A New York Public Library Recommended Book
“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Should both leave the reader wanting more and solidify Mason’s position as one of the most interesting writers in science fiction.”
—Publishers Weekly
“Rollicking. . .Dazzling. . .Mason’s characters are just as endearing as her world.”
—Locus Magazine
“Graceful prose. . . A complex and satisfying plot.”
—Library Journal
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery)
Passionate Historical Romantic Suspense
5 Stars
“I really enjoyed the story and would love to read a sequel! I enjoy living in the 21st century, but this book made me want to visit the Victorian era. The characters were brought to life, a delight to read about. The tasteful sex scenes were very racy….Good Job!”
—Reader Review
The Garden of Abracadabra
“So refreshing! This is Stephanie Plum in the world of Harry Potter.”
—Goodreads Reader
“Fun and enjoyable urban fantasy….I want to read more!”
—Reader Review
“I love the writing style and am hungry for more!”
—Goodreads Reader
The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria
Diary
6 May 1941.
We’ve arrived at last after months in Casablanca, which I once remembered fondly & now loathe. Sold all my good white linen bed sheets for Moslem shrouds to raise money for our sea passage. The Faithful must meet their Maker wrapt in the colour of purity, but I would’ve slept on straw, on mud, on a bed of nails to leave Africa.
Every day we were in danger. Everyone knows B.B. supported the Loyalists in Spain & wrote editorials for La Revolution Surrealiste & corresponded with Trotsky, for godssake. Fascists in every bar & café. Nazis, too, now that Rommel has taken over the Occupation & his officers carouse their days away. The Soviets will make mincemeat of you within the year, B.B. told anyone who would listen. Didn’t care a fig who listened in. Every night I feared the knock on our door, which thankfully never came.
As for our sea passage, I have little to record. I was sick, B.B. was sick. Everyone sick & absolutely grey with fear. We sailed on a Union Oil tanker, The Montebello. A favorite sport of Nazi U-boats, torpedoing a merchant ship with refugees aboard. No more than a rifle or two to defend us, should we be attacked. Every day the radio told of another sinking–in the Atlantic, in the Caribbean, & all hands lost. Nazi U-boats take no prisoners, save no survivors bobbing amongst the waves. I began to wonder what it must be like to drown. Your hair streaming up into sunlit waters, your feet plunging into blackness below. The fearsome struggle to breathe–would it be swift or slow? Would you notice fish? When would they start nibbling at the lobes of your ears?
I had to set this journal aside. Force myself to stop conjuring up horrors.
When we hobbled ashore at Tampico, I fell on my knees & kissed the beach. I mean literally. B.B. laughing & lurching about on his sea legs. I can still taste the sand on my lips. Filthy, but marvelous. The marvelous taste of our deliverance.
Nothing but the shirts on our backs & two little bags between us. We haven’t got a penny.
It’s completely true what Breton says of our destination.
Mexico is the Surrealist place par excellence. The land blazes with a savage golden light. A tiger light. The jungle spreads its tendrils to the very edge of town & the leaves of certain palms possess a clarified green the like of which I’ve never seen in Britain nor in Europe, save perhaps Tuscany. Blossoms have their wanton way in every window box, on every street corner, through every crevice in the ancient stone walls. Brick & mortar are no match for the lusty thrust of Life. I love the lascivious pinks, the regal purples. I spied a scarlet that actually throbbed, as if the colour of blood was pulsing from a newly opened wound. The natives wear their modernity lightly. As if civilization is but a garment to be donned or disposed of at one’s will.
I should like to feel that unencumbered of my past.
Thanks to the small refugee stipend paid to us by the Mexican government, we have found an apartment on Gabino Barreda, near the Monument to the Revolution (B.B. likes that, a poetic touch). Three horrid little rooms in a decaying stucco tenement. Plaster crumbling off the walls, scorpions in the kitchen. Other vermin, too, I fear. Mother would faint dead away at the sight of the pit in the floor that passes for our indoor plumbing. There is an alcove off the bedroom, though, which has light nearly all day & a terrace overlooking the street, which is delightfully picturesque. B.B. says I may take it for my art studio. The landlady (upon whom B.B. has worked his usual masculine charms) came by with two white, blue-eyed kittens, brushstrokes of fawn on nose & paw. She says they are Sealpoint Siamese such as I have not seen since Mother’s house in London.
Enchanting & I wept, realising how much I’ve left behind. How much the war has taken from us. The simple pleasure of kittens.
How can I not be happy?
Mexico City
“To the late Doctor Sigmund Freud,” says Gunther, raising his shot glass in a toast.
“To the great and monstrous Id,” says Enrique.
“To the Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria,” says Wolfie.
“Hear, hear,” adds B.B., a bit anemically. Poor man, he is not well.
Cheers ring out all round. Nora raises her glass as a courtesy, too weary to cheer. Tequila spills over her fingers, stinging the cut on her thumb she’d got unpacking B.B.’s papers. He needed everything ready by morning so he could start work on his new play. While he’d slept like the dead, she had labored long into the night. Their two bags no longer seeming so little or so sparse of belongings.
Nora knows these three merry fellows from Paris during her café days. Gunther and Wolfie are a pair of Hungarians, Enrique a Greek. Now they are all displaced Surrealists. A new nationality of their own. The tropical climate suits them, Nora is pleased to see. Gunther has grown positively stout on rice and beans, Wolfie sports an alarming mustache, and Enrique, well. Enrique is ever Enrique, a sly smile wrapped around a cigarette. Now he wears a jaunty straw hat and a white linen shirt, having retired his black Basque beret to a drawer along with his black wool scarf.
Exiles in Mexico City they all are, this ragged gang of painters, poets, and pundits. They’ve fled from everyplace a Nazi boot has kicked in a door or threatened to. Hungarians and Swedes, Austrians and Russians, British and Spanish and French. The Mexicans and Peruvians–Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Cesar Moro–serve as centers of gravity for these wayward comets. If not for the war, half these visionaries and rabble-rousers would scarcely be on speaking terms with the other half. But the war, now safely far behind them on the Continent, has taught strange and marvelous tricks to a pack of aging mongrels.
Gunther flings tequila into his throat, chases away the sting with a gulp of black beer. B.B., always one to follow suit around his comrades, flings a shot and gulps, as well, though flamboyant gestures do not become him. Never a robust man, B.B. has weathered the war rather badly. He has been leached and winnowed into something peevish and frail, his finely made face worn-out with worry. His hair has ebbed to the top of his skull, exposing the enigmatic dome of his forehead. Ever the intellectual, B.B. has assumed such an intense introspective air that people pause around him, even when he’s liquored up, and await an oracle.
“To Freud? How passé.” A woman’s voice, ironic, incisive, cuts through the male bombast and swoops into Nora’s eager ear. “Still stuck on nasty old Sigmund, what a pity.”
Valencia sweeps into the parlour of her house, smiling in her ironic way. She plucks the shot glass from Nora’s hand, offers a tumbler rimmed in salt. “Try this instead, cherie. Lime and tonic, with crushed ice. A much better way to sample tequila for the first time. We are not barbarians like Gunther and your poor old B.B.”
Nora, a little nervous, reacquaints herself with another famous face from the Paris days. Valencia, always towering, has transformed herself here into an Amazon queen, voluptuous and formidable. She wears her fiery chestnut hair in an unkempt mane that tumbles around her face and down her shoulders. Her bold Spanish features are much as Nora recalls. The huge dark eyes, the left one slightly askew. The rapier snout of a conquistador. Bee-stung lips of a shady lady. Altogether a splendid face, if not exactly pretty.
“Valencia, hello again,” Nora says, taking the tumbler. “Thanks ever so. You look marvelous.”
“You, too, cherie. Though a little frazzled around the edges, eh? Still, ever our English beauty. Drink up.”
Nora plucks at her threadbare blouse, abashed. You never could tell if Valencia was taking aim or only skewering your own self-doubts. If Valencia is an Amazon, Nora is a fairy-queen. Queen of the gnats. So petite and unassuming, few ever notice her, despite her pretty face and lustrous sable curls. The war has worn her down, too. She is much too thin, much too pale. Bad food, days brooding belowdecks, and despair have bleached all the colour from her English cheeks. Fleeing Fascism is fashionable only in theory. This she has learned the hard way.
Nora slides the tart taste of lime down her throat. Thirsty, so very thirsty. For refreshment. For friendship. Mexico City sits at the top of the world. They say the air is always bone-dry.
They say the Kahlo-Rivera circle is an arid place, too, harboring much public animosity toward correspondents of Trotsky like B.B. Not that Nora ever wrote to the famous revolutionary herself. She’s just an artist. But she shall surely be painted by the same brush by Frida and Diego.
Suddenly B.B. is at her side, gripping her elbow. Solicitous, fatherly, though of course they are lovers, he takes her tumbler. “I don’t think she should,” he says to Valencia.
Who regards his gesture with narrowed, glinting eyes. Tigress eyes.
“You are having a drop yourself, B.B.,” Valencia observes.
“Yes, but I am ever the drunkard. Whereas my little Nora hasn’t touched drink in ages, not the whole time we were exiled in Casablanca.” He sets her tumbler on a side table. And that’s that, in B.B.’s scheme of things. “Be so good as to tell me what is wrong with Freud, Madam Valencia?”
“Hah! Tell me what is right about Freud.”
She sweeps Nora under her arm, reclaiming the tumbler as she goes and restoring it to Nora’s hand. “You must come and see my art studio, cherie.
Nora shrugs and rolls her eyes at B.B., who is scowling. What can she do, swept away by a force of nature?
Valencia and her husband Renato own a house on Via del Rosa Moreno, five blocks west of Nora and B.B.’s apartment. No horrid little rooms or crumbling plaster for Valencia. Renato has money. The place is a palace. Whitewashed ceilings, Moroccan arches, great expanses of floor paved in terra cotta tile. There is an interior garden with a fountain. Valencia’s art studio, which opens onto the garden, has an adobe fireplace and native grotesqueries displayed on the walls. There is an Olinala jaguar mask with genuine fangs. A Michoacán devil mask, post-Cortez, bearing a striking resemblance to a Satan of Catholic inspiration. A Tlacozotitlan bat mask, a jungle nightmare held aloft by carved wood wings.
Nora is dazzled. But then Valencia has always dazzled everyone. They met among the clique surrounding Andre Breton and Yves Tanguy. Valencia slept with the great men, one after another. Breton himself had noticed her since she, sloe-eyed and slender then, was the sort of femme-enfant he craved like candy. Plus, she possessed unbeatable cachet: Valencia was a budding Surrealist artist. She painted interior landscapes. The shadows of the subconscious mind whirled and writhed across her haunting canvases.
Nora had been awed by Valencia then, too, and not a little envious. She had slept with too many of the less-than-great men, with the too-beautiful poet who wound up preferring gin and boys, and she was still painting competent Italian countrysides. Olive trees and Etruscan ruins, what rot. Nora hadn’t yet discovered how to paint past her eye. How to explore the depths of pure imagination.
Now Valencia is the great woman with whom lesser men are privileged to dine in Mexico City. For the great men like Breton and Tanguy have had the means and connections to escape the ravages of Europe in New York City. In the years since Paris, Valencia has become well-known in Surrealist circles, if not to the larger public. Peggy Guggenheim shows her paintings at Guggenheim Jeune Gallery. Valencia has collectors. Not many, but enthusiastic. And rich.
Among the canvases stacked in the studio, Nora spies a painting of a sphinx. She stoops for a closer look. Not the Egyptian monument nor the ripe she-beasts of Louis XIV statuary, but a vixenish creature with tabby-cat’s paws and a child’s face. The creature crouches in a decaying mansion, toying with a human jawbone, broken eggshells, a tidbit of bloody meat.
Something jars Nora, gazing at this strange image. Something takes her back to Mother’s house, the great rooms deserted. Everyone had gone to church, and a cousin, a rawboned boy fifteen years to her ten, stood towering over her. There were eggs. Eggs she’d dropped on the floor beneath her knees, and a whitish scum smeared across the tiles. A whitish scum lingering in her mouth.
No, that didn’t happen. You were dreaming, darling, Mother said when she stammered out her story. Cousin came with us to church. Cook must have dropped the eggs.
“Valencia, this is smashing,” she says, shaken. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Is this a new direction for you?”
Valencia starts to answer, then presses her finger to her lips, for now the men are strolling into the art studio, laughing and bickering. Tequila fumes rise off them, an alcoholic miasma. Nora bites back her words, cut off from further conversation. Well, but of course, it’s a party. B.B. hooks his elbow around her neck, as he often does, dangling his forearm across her collarbone. His hand hanging over her heart.
“So, Valencia, my dear, have you seen much of Frida and Diego lately?” Gunther says.
“No, not much at all. Watch your step, gentlemen, that canvas took me four months of heart-wrenching work. Rivera is in poor health, you know. Frida attends to his every need, as if he were still a little boy in his nappies.”
The men trade uneasy glances. Some of them revere Rivera, some despise him, but all consider the internationally famous, famously charming, and charismatic artist to be some kind of deity visiting this poor mundane world at his leisure. Valencia’s gibe makes them fidget, Nora observes, even if they suspect it’s true. Yet who can object? Valencia knows Kahlo and Rivera better than any of them. She is–what is the American expression?–she is in the know.
“Come now, ma belle, Valencia,” says B.B. Ah, Nora thinks, here it comes. “You have not set out for us your objections to Doctor Freud. The greatest analyst of the human mind in our times.”
“Oh, my, haven’t I?” A wink for Nora. And a little twisting motion with her fingers beside her lip, as if she were a Spanish gentleman adjusting his mustache. Very disconcerting to the gentlemen present.
“You have not,” B.B. asserts, assuming his lordly professorial air. Though he’s weaving on his feet.
“Well, to start, Freud hated women,” Valencia says, laughing as though this is quite a joke.
“Oh, that is not true, Valencia,” Gunther says. “The great doctor spent hours and hours with his madwomen.”
“Didn’t he, though,” says Enrique with his sly smile.
“You are all absurd,” B.B. says in such a commanding, condescending tone that he silences everyone. “It is Freud, madam, who first explicated the existence and causes of l’amour fou attitudes passionelles. The supreme means of ecstatic expression at which you women are so adept.” At that, he peers at the painting of the sphinx.
“Ah, Hysteria,” Valencia says. “The divine madness of women.”
“To the Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria,” Wolfie says, less clearly, and raises another toast of tequila. He cradles the bottle in the crook of his arm.
“Now, Wolfie,” Valencia begins. Taking aim, indeed. “Do you wish to live forever in the shadow of Breton? As for me, I’m still annoyed by the Fiftieth Anniversary of Hysteria. An event rather in questionable taste, even for Surrealists, don’t you think? How like Breton, publishing photographs of those poor lunatics at Salpetriere Hospital. As an artistic statement! All of them women, of course, in psychotic fugue and various stages of undress. You’d rather have your women mad than freethinking, eh, B.B.?”
Nora waits, breathless, for her lover’s answer.
“I agree, the quality of the photographs was rather poor,” he replies in a mild tone. “But Breton’s lack of talent as a publisher is not the point. Come now, admit it, Valencia. Sigmund Freud was the first man in history to truly understand women.”
“And what did Freud understand, pray tell?”
“Why, that women are the link to the subconscious mind.”
“Whose subconscious mind?” Valencia says. She clarifies, “The subconscious mind of whom?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Valencia,” B.B. says. “Freud exalts Woman. She is the link to the Id of the Artist. To the darkness. To the lurking dirtiness. She disturbs the Poet, and She compels him. She penetrates his every inhibition. She unleashes his forbidden desires, oh yes. She is the key, the trigger, the perfumed bomb. She is that onto which his passions may be projected. She is his fantasy, and his fantasy fulfilled.”
“A blank slate, is that what you mean, B.B.? An empty vessel with no thoughts or talents of her own?”
“She is my Muse,” B.B. says. He squeezes Nora’s neck so tightly she winces in pain.
“Dear old B.B. So dependent on women, after all.” Her glinting eyes turn to Nora. “And what about you, cherie? Is he your key, your trigger? How does he compel you when you paint your vision?”
Nora blushes. She has no answer.
“As for me,” Valencia declares, “I am my Muse.”
Diary
22 June 1941.
V. has changed my life. We see each other nearly every day. Teacher, soul-sister, friend. Muse, indeed, for she challenges me to look beyond the surface of the world. To look deep within myself & my imagination. To view our Art as a Calling & a Quest, not merely decoration for the rich.
Gossipmonger, too. V. is filled with talk about things going on everywhere. A spider tugging at each strand of her web for juicy morsels. How I adore it! She claims Kahlo has such a mustache on her lip from pleasing Rivera too much. You know what I mean. Certain prostitutes on the Rue de G develop the same problem, she says, with a twist of her imaginary mustache. I don’t know if this could possibly be true, but it makes for an awfully nasty rumor. Kahlo is a tragic figure, of course, with her grievous injury & her beautiful tortured paintings & having to cater to Rivera with his temper & his mistresses. Yet as much as I do truly pity her, I find her theatrical & intimidating & have not sought out her company, nor she mine. In any case, B.B. disapproves of her & Diego, but that’s politics.
V. studies a Swiss psychoanalyst, one Carl Jung. Once Freud’s disciple, Jung was cast out of his circle over theoretical/political dissension. V. adores Jung almost as much as she despises Freud. Jung is on to something when he talks about the subconscious, V. says. Rather than the repository of eroticism & primitivism (as Freud would have it), the subconscious (for Jung) is the repository of occult wisdom & magical powers. “Magical powers” being a metaphor for one’s inner strengths & talents. Jung does not actually believe magical powers exist, does he?
Like Freud, Jung believes the subconscious is essentially female. Intuition feminine, too. If this is so, then Woman is not only erotic, but also occult.
V. is deeply moved by these ideas. I’m much taken, too, but not quite sure what to believe. (I read V.’s books in her art studio. Don’t dare bring them home, should B.B. find them & throw them in the trash.)
Yesterday at the market V. & I found a plant with strange, egg-like fruit. We didn’t know what it was, had never seen such a thing before. V. told me to run & fetch my brushes & bring them to her studio, which I did, posthaste. We placed the plant in her garden & arranged my brushes around it. V. claimed the light of the full moon would fall upon everything & the Alchemical Egg would bless my brushes with creative power. Together we composed & then recited an incantation & danced like dervishes & drank a liter of red wine, all of which I found quite amusing. V. assured me this is not frivolous, this is inspiration. This is Magic. Lord, I will try anything to overcome this block of mine.
On my way home I found a tiny bird’s nest which had fallen to the pavement. A sticky little ball of twigs & spider silk & tucked inside, an egg no larger than a gumdrop. I picked the nest up & placed it in the crotch of a lemon tree next to the sidewalk. The very moment I did this, mother hummingbird flitted up & hovered, as if in thanks, blinking at me with her tiny beady bird eyes. I prayed: Oh Alchemical Egg, give birth to Me.
Silly, I know, but there you are & I was so happy, thinking this is a very good omen.
Started pencil sketches for a new painting tonight. My first work in Mexico City: a woman curled up inside of an egg.
Mexico City
Nora is exhausted by the time she arrives home from the advertising agency. The downtown bus was running late, she’s been running a fever for a week, there is nothing decent in the cupboard for dinner, and, to top it off, B.B. is in a foul mood again.
“Where have you been?” he snaps as she drags in the door.
“At work, of course,” she snaps back.
“At Valencia’s again,” he says. On principle, he cannot object to her friendship with the great Surrealist Artist, but he chafes at her devotion to her friend just the same.
“At work,” she repeats. “And at Valencia’s,” softening her tone, for what is the use of quarreling with B.B.? “I wanted to visit the cats.”
Nora could not afford to keep the Siamese kittens, who have transformed themselves into sleek little chocolate-cheeked panthers. Valencia, who is such a cat lover that friends have nicknamed her Felina, gladly them took in, but it’s discouraging. Nora cannot afford to keep cats. Nora cannot afford much more than their rent, rice, and beans. She cannot afford new shoes. She lines the insides of her once-fine Italian leather pumps with newspaper. She cannot afford a new blouse. She washes perspiration stains out of the weary old cotton with lye soap and a scrub brush. The advertising agency is pleased with her projects, simple but energetic pen-and-ink drawings extolling the virtues of aspirin and hair tonic, but they only pay for piecework, which amounts to little.
B.B., on the other hand, does not work in any gainful way. After losing his family’s house and land in Vienna to the Nazis, he has been paralyzed with grief though–Nora reminds herself–he never worked in any gainful way before then, either. He is unable to face the daily stringency of reporting to an office. He feels he does not speak Spanish well enough to translate or write for a local newspaper.
In any case, he’s started the new play. How can I write for a newspaper, he wants to know, if I’m to write the new play? Sometimes Nora thinks B.B. would be content to live in the streets and beg for food, all for the sake of the new play. Still, the play is his salvation. Everything he lives for. If not for the play, he tells her, I would have hanged myself a year ago.
This frightens her, this talk of hanging himself. Nora has loved B.B. for years. She reveres him. He was a great man, a poet and a playwright respected in Paris, in all of Europe, by Breton himself, an entire decade before she met him. She, his young lover, cannot possibly allow B.B. to live in the streets and beg for food. Let alone hang himself.
Still, there is the troublesome fact that he has written nothing significant in the year after their exile and flight. Oh, a page or two since the day she unpacked his papers upon arriving in Mexico City. She must be patient, she tells herself. He’s returning to his work, thanks to her. You‘re all I have left in the world, he tells her. You are my Muse.
“Did you get cigarettes? Tequila?” he growls now. Tobacco and booze fuel him. He must have cigarettes and tequila if he is to write the new play.
“I forgot we were out.”
Nora has hidden cigarettes in her little art studio for herself, for the hard-won moments when she can be there, painting. Her secret stash, which she refuses to share. Having to work has considerably slowed progress on her new painting. Yet Nora goes to the advertising agency and takes in sewing when she can because she would not be content to live in the streets and beg for food. She must at least have rice and beans. At the least the apartment on Gabino Barreda. She can do without new shoes and new blouses, but she must have paint. She must have canvases.
“Well, give me some money,” he says, “and I’ll go fetch everything.”
She gives him the last of her money for the week, and he goes out in search of cigarettes and tequila. She washes her hands and her face in the washbasin in the corner. Still mopping her neck with a towel, she drifts to his desk.
His work is put away, as usual, or covered up with a sheet of blank paper. He has not felt ready to show her the play, he says, and she respects that, the fragility of a new creation. She twinges with guilt at violating his orders not to disturb his things, but she’s not disturbing anything, she’s merely peeking. She picks up his ashtray, which needs emptying, anyway, and observes he has left a sheet of paper in his typewriter. Out of carelessness, his hangover, or deliberately, she cannot be sure. There, on the half-typed page she reads:
JUSTINE
I beg you, Master! Please, not again, I cannot bear it!
MASTER
(chaining her left ankle to the bedpost)
Yes, again, my little love. One day you will beg me for it.
Nora goes to the kitchen, puts rice on to boil. She heats oil in the skillet and fries the last of the curling tortillas. Hot grease spatters her hands. She feels nothing. Nothing but the anger in her heart. When B.B. strolls in with his cigarettes and tequila, she bangs the skillet down and stomps out to the living room.
“So. The new play,” she says, tapping her toe, crossing her arms, tucking her grease-spattered hands into her armpits. “You are rewriting Marquis de Sade? A new Sade play?”
“I told you to stay away from my desk,” he says mildly.
Ah. Deliberately, then.
“What are you thinking, B.B.? Where is the audience for a new Sade play? Who gives a damn about Sade when Hitler has chained up all of Europe? When he lusts for Russia, for Africa? For the whole world?”
The radio and the newspapers are filled with the news. Hitler’s troops invade Russia! The Wehrmacht deploys two hundred divisions! Aimed at Leningrad, at Moscow, at the Ukraine. The Soviet army stumbles in chaos. Bombs decimate hundreds of Soviet aircraft on the ground. The planes hadn’t even had time to take off. The Stalin Line lies in ruins, Stalin himself is in a stupor.
“On the contrary, the times are exactly right for Sade,” he says, pouring out a shot. His hands shake and he spills tequila on the table. He laps the liquor up like a dog. “Hitler violates in the realm of politics and suppresses the personal.”
“Well! That is hardly a Surrealist revolutionary statement, B.B. That is bloody monstrous.”
“Monstrous! Yes! Exactly right, my little Nora! My play shall prove that violation in the realm of the personal will liberate our politics. When the common man sets out to explore the extremes of his fantasies, his exploration causes his society to become a more liberated and tolerant place.”
“And why, pray, is that?”
“Because the common man need not sublimate his desires and act out those sublimations and suppressions against his fellow citizen, his coworker, and his comrade.”
Nora does not know how to refute this theory.
B.B. grins at her silence. “Marquis de Sade was a great sexual revolutionary, fully conversant with his subconscious mind. A man who penetrated his secret obsessions without the benefit of Freudian psychoanalysis. Breton greatly admires Sade, you know. He says the man was a Surrealist, a pre-Surrealist. I cannot wait to show him my manuscript!”
“Sade and Freud and Breton,” she says. “Such cozy bedfellows. Comrades in despising and degrading women.”
“Oh, I see,” B.B. says coldly.
“You see what?”
“Madam Valencia’s influence has begun to confuse you. Sade, of all men, believed in the liberation of Woman. He believed Woman should be freed of her maternity, of her domesticity. Is that what you really want, Nora? Babies and housework?”
“I don’t know,” she whispers. This is only too true. She fled the bourgeois life long ago, searching for something more.
“No, you don’t, nor should you. Because you are an Artist, my little Nora. Do you really serve me so much? Do I demand a brilliant dinner? A spotless household? Heirs bouncing on my knee? No. I free you, Nora. I give you the key to your freedom so you may pursue your Art.”
The anger in her heart flares hotter. “Dear me, I didn’t realize you held the key to my prison.”
“Of course I do. Men always hold the key. Sade understood this.”
“Sade,” she says, “was a madman.”
“His prose style is exquisite,” B.B. says mildly.
After their rustic dinner, B.B. insists on making love. Nora resists at first, then gulps lime-and-tequila, and lies down on their bed. She does not fear B.B. She may be petite, but she’s stronger than him in many ways and much younger. He has never physically harmed her. She is certain he would never try. Yet she wants to know–how has he changed, if Sade is on his mind? What liberation will he bring her, if the liberation of Woman is the object of his creative inquiry?
But he is tender and respectful, as always, and she is both relieved and inexplicably disappointed. B.B. does not live his Art. His Art does not authenticate his life, his relationship with her, or his reckoning with the world. His Art is no Calling. It’s an entertainment. An entertainment no one will be entertained by. Especially her.
As he strives for his climax, she runs her fingertips down the slope of his back. The little knobs of his spine are so delicate. For a moment she believes she could crush them, like eggshells, with her thumbs.
To read the rest of this fascinating story, discover what momentous event Nora dreams of, discover her disastrous relationship with B.B., and read the Postscript about the real artists the story is based on and the sources I consulted, friends, readers, and fans, please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and help me after the Attack. I’ve posted delightful new stories and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes and health tips, and more exclusively for my heroic patrons! I’m even offering a critique of your writing sample per each submission.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

TaoCoverSmall

I.
Dragon
Sing Lin skips down Fish Alley, seeking fresh shrimp for Master’s supper.
She swings her wicker shopping basket with a frivolous hand, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. The city air is ripe with the odors of raw sea creatures and sandalwood incense, of the mouthwatering scent of peanut oil smoking in someone’s hot wok.
A mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu, not on most days. Certainly not on a day as fresh and crisp as this, with sunlight sparkling high above and a cool west wind from the sea. A day which Cook would have gladly savored for himself.
A lucky day.
But Cook has injured himself. His ankle has swollen up like a bundle of newspapers left out in a night rain. Cook took a wrong step into a pothole on Jasmine Avenue, and now he cannot step at all.
Cook had seized her skinny arm as Sing Lin had knelt over the wash basin, scrubbing the sheets for Master’s bed. He flung her to her feet and said, “Here, you lazy girl, go get two pounds shrimp for Master’s supper, and make quick.”
“Yes, Cook,” she murmured.
Sing Lin had washed her hands and face, and retied her queue, and smoothed the wrinkles from her black cotton sahm. And she set out with Cook’s coins and her wicker shopping basket, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. Shrimp is double good luck because, first, here she is, out of the house in such a long time. And because, second, Master will let Cook give her one spicy fried shrimp with her usual supper of boiled rice and greens. “You the shrimp girl, anyway,” Cook joked in his dour way. “Master bought you for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp.”
Two more skips and a hop and a jump, and Sing Lin finds herself among the peddlers of Fish Alley. They are, one and all, clad in blue-denim sahms. Yet all are not alike in the throng of blue tunics and trousers, a truth that even Sing Lin’s eyes can discern. The ones wearing jaunty felt fedoras have taken to the new ways of the city. The ones in embroidered satin caps have not. And the ones who cannot escape their lot in life no matter where they flee to wear the flat straw cone of peasantry. They are, one and all, men. There is not a woman in sight, unless Sing Lin peeks at her own reflection in a shop window, and even she’s not a woman, not yet.
Master employs many men just like the fish peddlers in his drayage business along the waterfront. Once she overheard him talking to Cook. They are not, of course, human beings, Master had said. They are oxen to be led by a ring through the nose. Later, lying on her straw pallet in the pantry, Sing Lin had wondered for a long time what Master must think of her.
Now she glimpses the longing and the bitterness in the fish peddlers’ eyes and something else, something strange and disturbing. Anxiety casts a shadow on her happiness, and she is only too aware she does not belong here. After all, a mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu. It’s not a proper thing. Not on any day.
Fish Alley is not really much of an alley, and certainly not at all an actual street on which horses and wagons travel as they do on other city streets. It is only a mean, narrow passage permitting pedestrian traffic from east to west and back again. Ancient shacks line its gutters, tenements abandoned long ago by fortune-seekers, their claims staked out now by landlords and merchants like Master. Within these shacks dwell the peddlers and the draymen of Tangrenbu, men tripled up to a room, drifting in and out of the city with the fickle tides of bust or boom.
The clapboard walls are covered over with bulletins, strips of red rice paper announcing the news near and far in bold, black slashes of calligraphy. Sing Lin spies a t’ai chi adorning a lintel, a little circle comprised of two teardrops, one red, one black, with a spot of each color in the opposite drop. The t’ai chi is triple good luck, that’s what Cook says. First, for the red, which is yang, thus fiery and excitable, and, second, for the black, which is yin, thus cool and restful. And third for the spots, which rouse restfulness into excitement, and calm excitement into rest.
Oh! A t’ai chi!
Sing Lin is positively glowing with good luck.
She strolls among straw baskets bulging with the sea’s bounty. There are speckled black oysters tossed on handfuls of dank seaweed. Mottled green crabs with their slow, pinching claws. And shrimp, of course, translucent blue and sooty like ill-made glass before they spill into the wok and cook up clean and deliciously pink. She pauses before a basket of salmon, lovely lithe creatures paved in silvery scales. Some of the fish are still flopping. The air is tainted with their brackishness and the smell of their blood. Sing Lin’s heart catches at the sight of the salmon struggling in their death throes.
“Hey, you little girl. Why such a sad face?”
Sing Lin turns, startled. A girl? A girl! Another girl! Whoever sees a girl in Tangrenbu? Yet it’s true, another girl stands beside her. In a black cotton sahm just like hers, a wicker shopping basket slung over her arm, ‘her queue wound around her head in an ebony crown. She is taller than Sing Lin by a handspan and very skinny. Her face is as round as the moon, her eyes almond-shaped slivers of mischief, her skin as flawless as a piece of polished ivory. Her laughing mouth quirks to the left as if she would tell you things you didn’t especially want to hear, but she’ll insist on telling you anyway. Around her neck she’s strung a black silk cord which holds, on the end of it, a tiny t’ai chi. Little shadows pool beneath the high bones of her flat cheeks.
The fish peddlers stare at her—Sing Lin can’t help but notice–as if she is a two-headed, five-legged pig.
“Well? I’m waiting for your answer,” she says. Ah. A little empress she is.
“I’m. . . .I’m sorry the pretty fishes must die.”
The girl mimics weeping and a face full of sorrow, then grins. “Your heart is too soft, little girl. Salmon is delicious! It will put some meat on those matchsticks you call your arms and legs.” She widens her eyes and drops her mouth, the very picture of scandalized disbelief. “Don’t tell me your master is so cruel he never lets a little girl like you ever taste salmon.”
Sing Lin stares down, ashamed. Her big bony toes bulge out of her straw sandals. Peasant toes. She is not someone who tastes salmon, but then–she lifts her chin–she doesn’t want to admit that to this bossy girl. “Sometimes Master gives me spicy fried shrimp with my rice and greens.”
“You mean one little shrimp, don’t you?” At Sing Lin’s abashed nod, the girl throws back her head and laughs, a sound like the tinkling of a silver bell.
The fish peddlers murmur. Sing Lin is only too aware of their eyes. “Don’t laugh like that,” she mutters. “They’re all looking.”
“Ho! Let them look. Come over here into the shade with me, if you’re so worried.”
The girl takes her arm and draws her into the shadows beneath a balcony. The balcony has a great curved railing painted the rich velvety yellow of an egg yolk. “I am Kwai Yin.”
“I am Sing Lin.”
“You are mooie jai?”
“Yes.”
“Me, too.”
The language they once spoke in the old country is as vast as the ancient land from which it had sprung. There are so many dialects that Sing Lin, a girl from the north, would have trouble understanding Kwai Yin, a girl from the south, if they spoke in their mother tongues. So they twist their tongues around another language altogether. The pigeon language of the new country. Of Tangrenbu.
“Where’s your master’s cook, anyway?” Kwai Yin says, looking her up and down. “What’s a girl like you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Cook stepped into a pothole. Now he can’t take a step!” Sing Lin suppresses a giggle, nervous and not a little awed. This bossy girl, a mooie jai, too? And her master lets her taste salmon? What else does her master let her do? “What’re you doing, gadding about Fish Alley?”
“Shopping, of course.” As if such a pastime for a mooie jai is nothing.
Which it is not. Not in Tangrenbu.
Sing Lin is bursting with questions, but her throat clenches. The balcony may shield them from the sun and from the fish peddlers’ eyes, but affords no relief from the stink of a bin filled with offal. She spies fish heads and fish fins and husked shrimp shells, the flat little mitt of a manta that wandered into some fisherman’s net. Sing Lin wrinkles her nose, presses fingers to her throat. “Oh, let’s go someplace else!”
But Kwai Yin peers into the bin, avid with curiosity. “Wait, wait. Look there!”
And there, next to the manta, lies another dead little creature, speckled gray, serpentine like an eel. But it is not an eel. It has four fragile legs, each tipped with a foot, and stubby toes, and claws as thick as darning needles. In the way that a sea horse resembles a horse, the tiny head resembles that of an ox. There are bovine ears and round eyes, a broad snout with flaring nostrils. The jaws hang slack, baring fangs that would have given your finger a nasty bite.
“Poor thing,” Sing Lin murmurs. “What is it?”
“Your heart is way too soft,” Kwai Yin says. “That is lung.”
“What is lung?”
“It’s a dragon. Did you ever see such a lousy little dragon?”
“A dragon! That’s a dragon?”
“I know, it was so tiny and weak. Thrown away with the fish heads. The sea must be awfully full of poisons these days.”
Sing Lin eyes the creature. “But there’s no such thing as a dragon. Not really.”
Kwai Yin whips around, her eyes flashing. “Then what is that, I ask you? It is lung, the dragon, I’m telling you, one of the four Fabulous Creatures. Usually he’s bigger and stronger than ten oxen. And his roar! Usually his roar shakes the rooftops off castles. Usually he’s handsome and powerful and brave. Ignorant girl, don’t you know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures?”
Sing Lin shakes her head. Yet she will not stare at her toes, not now. She’s eager to learn. “Please tell me.”
“They are the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Unicorn, and the Tortoise,” Kwai Yin says in her imperious way, counting out the creatures on her fingers. “My Teacher taught me this, and many other things.” She adds in a voice not quite so proud, “I had a Teacher once, you know.”
She pulls Sing Lin away from the vile bin. Angling down from the balcony is buttress of iron scrollwork, which reaches halfway to the street. Kwai Yin slings her basket handles over her head, and leaps up, and seizes the scrollwork in her fist. She walks her feet up the wall, hooks her leg over the buttress, and straddles it, flushed and triumphant. Mounted on her perch, she leans down and holds out her hand. “Come on up. Let’s get some fresh air.”
Sing Lin slings her basket handles over her head, too, and leaps up, and seizes Kwai Yin’s hand. She walks up the wall, too. Kwai Yin pulls her onto the buttress, and they climb up onto the cool stone floor of the balcony. They sit with their legs sticking out beneath the egg-yolk yellow railing and dangle their feet, gazing down at Fish Alley.
Sing Lin is tingling with excitement and also with anxiety. She’s never done such a bold thing, climbing up on a stranger’s balcony. She glances over her shoulder. “What if the man who lives here comes home and finds us?”
“What if, you silly girl? Do you think he’s an ogre who will eat us?” She grabs Sing Lin’s arm and pretends she’s chewing on it, which makes Sing Lin laugh. “Stop being afraid of things that don’t matter. Now, listen. My Teacher said, the four Fabulous Creatures are manifestations of the Tao. Just loaded with so much luck you can’t even believe it.”
Sing Lin peers down at the little dead dragon. How could that could be lucky?
“They are rare and flighty things, the four Fabulous Creatures. You just don’t see a Fabulous Creature every day of the week.”
“I’ve never seen a dragon in my whole life. Not even a little one like that.”
Kwai Yin bobs her head. “Me, neither. My Teacher said, if ever you see a Fabulous Creature in the world, it means that the Tao is near. That the magic of the Tao will touch you.”
Sing Lin shivers with delight. “Magic!”
“Yes, but just look at that lousy little dragon. I see no Tao in Tangrenbu. I see no magic for mooie jai like you and me.”
Sing Lin does not want to be so easily discouraged. “But maybe magic will come!”
“Maybe.” Kwai Yin shrugs. “When did you come to Tangrenbu?”
“In the Year of the Tiger. The Swallow brought me here.”
There was a time when Sing Lin could not speak of that time at all. Of how her father sold her to a slaver in the seaport. Who sold her to the master of a clipper-ship named for a quick-winged bird. It didn’t seem right that a ship with a lovely name like the Swallow was a notorious slave ship, but so it was, carrying illegal human cargo from the old country to the new.
How grateful she’d been when they dragged her out of steerage and off the hellish ship into the cold sunlight of Tangrenbu. Grateful when they stripped off the filthy rags she’d worn for weeks. Grateful still when they stood her up, naked, on an auction block, and an auctioneer displayed her to a crowd of merchants. Grateful at last to go to Master for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp. She is mooie jai, fated to serve at Master’s beck and call. She is grateful for one spicy fried shrimp with her boiled rice and greens.
She can say no more about the Swallow. What’s done is done.
“Oh ho, in the Year of the Tiger,” Kwai Yin is saying, her tone as tart as green oranges. “And how many celestial creatures did you count before the Tiger?”
Now Sing Lin grins. She likes this game of recounting the celestial creatures. She may not know anything about the four Fabulous Creatures, but the twelve celestial creatures, the creatures each of whom who rules over each year, these she knows well. Cook often asks her to recount the celestial creatures, too, and suddenly she realizes he has asked her this so she will remember how old she is. “I remember the Year of the Dog, but only a little because I was little.”
“Go on.”
“Then came the Boar, the Rat, and the Ox. Then the Tiger.”
“So you were five years old when your father sold you?”
Sing Lin says nothing. She cannot even say “yes,” though it’s true. “What about you?”
“Well, I can recount two more celestial creatures than you,” Kwai Yin says in her haughty way. “I saw the Monkey and the Rooster come and go long before the Year of the Dog.”
“Oh!” Sing Lin is delighted. Kwai Yin is two years older than her. Like a sister!
But Kwai Yin is stern, quizzing her further. “And after the Year of the Tiger?”
Sing Lin thinks carefully. “After the Tiger came the Hare.”
“Yes.”
“After the Hare came the Dragon.” She doesn’t want to look at the little dead dragon. “After the Dragon came the Snake. Oh, I’m afraid of snakes.”
“Now that is something to be afraid of. Once I picked up a sack of rice shipped in from the old country. And there, coiled underneath the sack, was the prettiest little piece of string, the color of a shining emerald. And do you know what that pretty little string was? It was a bamboo viper, the most deadliest snake in the whole world! If my master himself hadn’t pulled me away and killed it, I wouldn’t be here at all, talking to you.” She smiles at Sing Lin’s wide eyes. “Go on.”
“After the Snake came the Year of the Horse,” Sing Lin says cautiously. “Now it is the Year of the Ram.”
“Correct. And the new year coming?”
“The new year coming is the Year of the Monkey. I like the Monkey. He’s the Trickster. He likes to play games.” She improvises. “He’s the protector of bossy girls.”
“Yes, yes, very good.” Kwai Yin rewards her with a squeeze of her hand. “I was born in the Year of Monkey.”
“Then the new year coming will be your best lucky year!”
“Ho! Lots of luck, but who knows what kind.” A door suddenly bangs behind them. Kwai Yin cocks her head. “Oops, I hear the ogre. We better go!”
She swings herself over the railing, slides down the scrollwork, and leaps to the street–very much like a monkey. Sing Lin follows, clumsy with panic, banging her elbow hard on a strut of iron. There will be a bruise she will have to explain to Cook.
“Come on!” Kwai Yin says.
The girls dash away from the ogre, who is only a withered old man leaning over the yellow railing of his balcony with a perplexed look. They come to a breathless halt where the alley empties out onto Jasmine Avenue. A horse and hansom clatter by, and people stride by, too, clad in denim sahms or in the grand sweeping robes of merchants. Men, all of them men.
Men who stare at two mooie jai.
The girls press themselves against the wall of a dry goods shop, both alarmed, both trying to become invisible.
“I have seen twelve celestial animals come and go,” Kwai Yin says, shrinking from the traffic, her manner no longer so bold. “That’s why my master makes me eat salmon.”
Makes you!”
“Yes. Till my belly can hold no more, and sometimes I feel a little sick.”
Sing Lin cannot picture this tall, skinny girl eating so much salmon. For one thing, such rich meals have added no meat to the matchsticks she calls her arms and legs. Sing Lin should be glad Kwai Yin can feast so well on rich food her master insists that she eat. But her heart catches, like when she saw the salmon fishes dying. “Why does your master make you eat salmon till you’re sick?”
Kwai Yin says, cold and grim, “Because I must grow fat before I go to meet my fate.”
II
Phoenix
Sing Lin skips back to Master’s house, carrying two pounds of shrimp in her wicker basket and a handful of copper coins in change. More coins than you might think. After meeting Kwai Yin, she’s started feeling bolder herself. She smiled sweetly at the shrimp vendor instead of casting her eyes down and, in return, he gave her a very good price and a very nice smile of his own.
Cook, taking his ease in the servants’ quarters, his swollen ankle propped up on a cushion, counts out the coins. He glances up at her, startled, and parts his thin lips, revealing two fence rows of teeth stained brown by tobacco. Cook’s rendition of a smile. “Very good, girl. I tell Master you not so lazy, after all.”
“Thank you, Cook. Is there any other thing you wish?”
A tough little knotty man, like an oft-tied leather shoestring, Cook regards the whole world as if deciding how to skin and gut and slice and boil it. Sing Lin averts her eyes from him and keeps her own mouth from smiling. She’s fresh and rosy-cheeked, her hair disheveled from the sea wind, she’s unaccountably happy, and she knows Cook notices this. She knows he is speculating just exactly how she came up with the extra coins and is deciding whether or not he approves of her cleverness.
He doles out another dime from his leather purse.
Late sunlight slants over the western hills, casting long shadows over Tangrenbu. But the day is not yet done.
“Yes, another thing. Go to the sweetmeats shop and buy some sugar plums for Master’s dessert. And a coconut candy for you. But just one. And bring back change.”
“Yes, Cook.”
“And, for goodness sake, put something over your sahm.”
Cook lurches to his feet, and takes off his jacket, and pulls the garment over her shoulders. “Tuck up your hair, take a hat.” He knots her queue into a coil at the nape of her neck, jams his slouch hat over her head. The hat is way too big and smells of Cook’s sweat and his suety hair oil. She giggles, already too warm beneath the jacket and hat. Cook shakes his finger at her. “No laugh. You must pass for a boy. I made a mistake earlier today. I cannot send a girl like you alone into Tangrenbu.”
“Cook, why are there no mothers in Tangrenbu? Why no girls?”
He yanks the jacket over her scrawny chest. “The governors of the new country have passed laws. These laws say we cannot bring our wives or our daughters from the old country to Tangrenbu.”
“Why?”
“Because we came here to work and make a new life, but the governors and the people who live here do not want us to stay and make a new life after the work is done.”
Why?”
“You’re too old to ask why, why, why like a baby child.”
“But why?”
He buttons up the jacket all the way, from her neck to her thigh. “The governors fear us. If we cannot bring our families to Tangrenbu, the governors hope we will return to the old country when the work is done. But many of us cannot return. I cannot return to my wife and daughter. After all my work in Tangrenbu, I cannot save the fare for my sea passage. It would be better for me to make a new life here with my family and pay for their fare. I very much want that. But if I have no fare for myself, have can I provide fare for them?”
Sing Lin ponders that. “Cannot stay, yet cannot go. Cannot go back to family, cannot bring family here to settle down. Like a fish caught in a net, thrashing about.” She thinks of the dead dragon, but decides not to tell Cook about it. Beneath the tough nutshell of his face, she can discern the kernel of his sorrow.
“Yes. And so here we men must stay alone, in Tangrenbu. And here in Tangrenbu, there are only mooie jai and–” But now Cook claps his jaws shut.
Sing Lin is puzzled and a little frightened. “And who else, Cook?”
“And daughters of joy.”
That sounds lovely to Sing Lin’s ears. She’s reminded of Kwai Yin, of her own joy today. “Oh, I should like to meet a daughter of joy.”
“No, no! Never, never meet a daughter of joy.” Cook frowns and dark shapes move in his eyes. “You listen to me, girl. You must never go to Soot Alley. Never go to Bleak Place.”
One time, in the Year of the Snake, Sing Lin had walked with Cook past Bleak Place. It was a dreadful dark alley in a labyrinth of many such alleys in Tangrenbu. She recalls the strange, birdlike cries she’d heard when they passed by. She recalls how they’d seen men dragging something out of one of the shacks. A burlap sack that might have held the corpse of a large dog. How the men had tossed the sack onto the flatbed of a garbage wagon, and how Cook had made her hurry.
“Never, never go to those places,” Cook says and darkness moves in his voice. “For that is where the daughters of joy are kept hidden. You sabe?”
She isn’t sure if she understands, but she says, “I sabe.
And she sets out for sugar plums for Master’s dessert, plus one coconut candy for herself. She brings back the coins in change, which Cook takes, along with the candy. He splits the candy in two, giving her half, and pops the other half in his mouth. No matter. Half a coconut candy is well worth another taste of freedom.
*   *   *
To discover what Kwai Yin’s terrible fate is, Sing’s danger, Tao Magic, and the rest of the Four Fabulous Creatures, visit my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 for the full story of “Daughter of the Tao” and become a patron. Help me recover from the Attack and get access to delightful new and previously published stories, writing tips, book excerpts, movie reviews, original healthy recipes, and more!
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ARACHNE.1.28.18.SMLL

“Arachne”, My First Published Story, Published in OMNI Magazine, Newly Revised
The flier levitates from a vermilion funnel and hovers. Stiff chatoyant wings, monocoque fuselage, compound visual apparatus. The flier skims over the variegated planetscape, seeking another spore source. Olfactory sensors switch on. The desired stimuli are detected; another spore source is located.
Down the flier dips. But the descent is disrupted for a moment by atmospheric turbulence. The flier’s fine landing gear is swept against a translucent aerial line, as strong as steel and sticky with glue. A beating wing tangles in more lines. The flier writhes.
The trapper hulks at the edge of the net. Stalked eyebuds swivel, pedipalps tense. At the tug of the flier’s struggler, the trapper scuttles down a suspended line, eight appendages gripping the spacerope with acrobatic agility. The trapper spits an arc of glue over the flier’s wings, guides the fiber around the flier’s slim waist. A pair of black slicers dripping with goo snap around the flier’s neck.
*   *   *
Carly Quester struggles out of the swoon. Blackout smears across the crisp white cube of her telelink like a splash of ash rain down a window. It’s happened again. Her system crashes for a monstrous second, she plunges into deep, black nothing. Then, inexplicably, she’s in link again, hanging like a child on a spinning swing to a vertiginous interface with the Venue.
Panic snaps at her. How many seconds lost this time?
“We will now hear Martino v. Quik Slip Microship, Inc.,” announces the Arbiter. Edges of his telelink gleam like razor blades. His presence in the Venue, a massive face draped in black, towers like an Easter Island godhead into the upper perimeter of telespace. The perimeter is a flat, gray cloudbank.
“On what theory does Quik Slip Microchip counterclaim to quiet title when Rosa Martino has been titleholder to the Wordsport Glossary for thirty-five years? Mediator for defendant? Ms. Quester?”
Carly hears her name—muffled, tinny—through the neckjack. Her answer jams in her throat. Weird, she shouldn’t feel her body in link. For an eerie second she feels like she’s inside the telelink, sweating and heaving inside the airless, computer-constructed telespace itself. Her body, hunched over the terminal in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice, wrapped up in a web of wires, mutters a curse.
But her presence in the Venue is struck dumb.
Gleeful static from the two scruffy solos representing the plaintiff, Martino. Carly can hear them ripple with excitement, killers closing in on their prey.
Of course, they’re on contingency, and old lady Martino probably couldn’t even scare up the filing fees. One of them, a weaselly hack, shrugs at the whirring seconds on the chronograph and says, “Not defaulting on your crooked counterclaim, are ya, hotshot?”
“Mediator for defense? The mediator from Ava & Rice? Ms. Quester?” thunders the Arbiter. “You have thirty seconds to log in your counterclaim.”
Telelinks of the jury, two rows of red-veined, glassy eyes floating across the purple right perimeter of the Venue, glance doubtfully at each other. The silvery pupils dart to and fro.
Gritty bile bites at the base of Carly’s throat. A peculiar ache throbs in her jaw, thrusts icy fingers into her neck. She tries audio again, but her presence in the Venue is still silent.
“Huh, hotshot?” goads the solo. His telelink has the sloppy look and gravelly sound cheap equipment produces. But for a second, he manages to hot-wire an I-only access into her telelink.
“You ball-breakers from the big firms, with your prime link. You think you’re so tough. Watch out, hotshot. I’m going to eat you alive this time, hotshot.”
The big board across the back perimeter of the Venue hums and clicks. Gaudy liquid crystal projections in each division indicate the moment. In Stats, the luminous red Beijing dial registers another three hundred thousand births. Chik-chik-chik-chik! Ten seconds later on Docket—bing!—the eminent mediation firm of Ava & Rice registers as defense for Pop Pharmaceutical against the Chinese women who claim they took glucose, instead of birth control pills. In Trade, bids for rice futures soar. On News, reports of fifteen suicides of corn investors are filed.
“In ten seconds your client will have defaulted, Ms. Quester, and I will cite you for contempt of this Venue—obstructing the speedy dispensation of justice,” says the Arbiter.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor, request a recess,” Carly says finally. Audio feeds back with an earsplitting whine.
Her telelink suddenly oscillates crazily, sharp white edges flipping black-white-purple-white, like her terminal’s shorting out. It’s all she can do to keep logged in. Metallic tickle–pain of electrical shock gooses her body to raise a limp hand and refocus the projection.
“On what grounds?” demands the Arbiter.
“I’m—I’m sick.”
Jagged flash; the Arbiter’s gavel cracks; telespace vibrates. “Mediation recessed until next week, this same time. Ms. Quester, you will approach the bench.”
As Carly approaches, the solo zooms in with one last I-only. “Hey hotshot, hotshot,” he says in a cushy vibe. “You new, right? A word to the wise, hotshot. The Arbiter, he hates to wait. Got a reputation for the fastest Venue in town. He disposes sixty mediations an hour sometimes. You hold him up, hotshot, you in trouble. Better talk fast, better have a rap. I’ll see you in the Venue, hotshot.”
The solo logs off, extinguishing the smeary bulb of his presence in telespace.
Fully in link at last, Carly slips and slides up to the Arbiter’s quarters. No privacy in the gleaming metal construct of telespace; no shadowed corner, no hidden booth behind which to hide her humiliation. All the blank eyes stare at her.
“Ms. Quester, you are hereby cited under Rule Two of the Code of Civil Procedure for obstruction of the speedy dispensation of justice. You are suspended from this Venue for thirty days.”
Thirty days. Thirty days suspended from the Venue could cost Carly her first job, a great job, with the prosperous mediation firm of Ava & Rice. How many other bright, qualified applicants did she beat out for this job? Three thousand? How many other bright, qualified applicants would vie for her position if she lost it? Ten thousand?
Her presence in the Venue sparkles with bright panic. “I’m permitted to show reasonable cause under Rule Two, Your Honor.”
“Proceed.”
“I blacked out for a second, I’ve not been well . . .”
“If the mediator cannot prepare the mediation you extend, you re-petition, you re-calendar, you notify the Venue, Ms. Quester, in advance. Dismissed.”
“But, Your Honor, I had no warning. I just went down for a second, no warning at all. I’ve not been well, it’s true, but not so bad as to keep me out of the Venue. Your Honor, I had no warning, please believe me.”
The Arbiter’s eyeball zooms in on her flickering link for a close-up. His glittering pupil pulses with his plain doubt. “You’re not been well but not so bad, but your system went down. All of a sudden! Oh, yes! You young wires, holding up my Venue with your lame excuses. I know why link fails most of the time. I should cite you for abuse of altering substances, too.”
Carly’s teeth begin to chatter; a puddle of urine floods her plastic seat. Then a fouler, hotter wash of shame. During her first link fifteen years ago, her ten-year-old body had disgraced her like this, in the presence of two hundred other link-prep students. She feels her body stress out at the memory of her juvenile dishonor. Her presence in the Venue vacillates.
“I’m not on drugs, Your Honor. I’m ill, I tell you, it’s something insidious striking without warning. It could be cancer or radiation poisoning.”
“Or the flu? Or a hangover? Or the disposal ate your brief?”
The Venue quivers with pitiless laughter from scores of unseen throats. The spectacle of a peer’s downfall is cause for rejoicing.
“Your Honor, request permission to enter medical documentation to establish reasonable cause.”
“Oh, very well, you’re new. Permission granted, Ms. Quester. Submit your documentation before your next mediation date. This Venue will now hear Sing Tao Development v. Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley. Issue is breach of warranty under federal standards governing the relocation of low-income housing into public parkland. Mediation for the defense?”
A team from Ava & Rice logs into the Venue with a brilliantly constructed defense. A silver spiral twirls across telespace, frosty tail ejecting wisps of pale yellow sophisms into its own blue-lipped devouring mouth. Standards met under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation or standards not applicable under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation; thus, in either case, no breach. Mediation for plaintiff withdraws the complaint in two seconds. Screams of outrage and despair whistle through the public telespace. Someone logs in a whimpering five-year-old child dying of third-degree sunburns. The Arbiter’s gavel booms like doom. Dismissed! In one second the homeowners’ association files suit against its former mediator. Teep! On Docket, Ava & Rice registers as new mediation in the malpractice suit brought by the Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley.
Carly logs out of telespace.
And links out into a heap of flesh and ooze, sprawled in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice. Blown it, she’s blown the mediation bad. Every first-year mediator’s nightmare come true. Carly rips the neckjack out, spills half a bottle of denatured alcohol into the needle-thin aperture. Grimaces as a tincture of pure alcohol bursts into her brain’s blood. Messy, careless—shit! Get too much of that old evil backrub up your linkslit—bang!—you’re dead, grunt. Happens every now and again around the firm, someone just drops dead.
She swabs herself off as best she can and flees her dim cubicle, link still flickering with fluorescent green light. Jogs down the endless corridor of cubicles, working off panic with sheer locomotion.
The mediation firm of Ava & Rice boasts five hundred partners, three thousand associates, one thousand secretaries, five hundred clerk-messengers, and ten thousand terminals interfaced with a mammoth sengine, all installed in a forty-story building downtown.
At every open door, the limp body of a mediator is wired up to a terminal. Some are as wasted as junkies, rolled-back eyes between precipitous skull bones. Some are bloated with the sloth, raw lips crusty with food solutions piped down their throats.
Everyone’s got a different handle on practicing mediation, but the basics are the same. Time is of the essence. When in doubt, dispute. When in the Venue, win. The volume of mediation is astronomical. Planning for the future becomes obsolete overnight. Catastrophe strikes with regularity. Billions of bucks are to be made, and you’d better grab them before someone else does.
How many bright, qualified applicants would vie for Carly’s position when the personnel committee finds out about her failure in the Venue? Fifteen thousand?
*   *   *
For the rest of “Arachne,” (the story is 9,000+ words) please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
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Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

I’m putting the finishing touches on my Patreon Tiers, which I’ll be blogging on WordPress as the autumnal days progress.
Tier One features a Tribute to Yoshio Kobayashi, the beloved Japanese translator of science fiction and fantasy who suddenly and tragically died in May, 2019. I considered him a friend. Tier One also features my original vegetarian recipe for Spicy California Rice and the September movie review, which will probably be a critique of “Can You Ever Forgive Me”? Plus, I’m adding The September Lifestyle Blog to Tier One.
On Tier Two, you’ll find another delightful Lisa Mason story. This one, “Crawl Space”, is an Abracadabra spin-off, with a Foreword introducing the story and an Afterword exploring the extensive research that went into writing a 4,000 word story. Plus, I’m adding The Writing Tip of the Month, analyzing inadvertent repetitions in a manuscript and how you can fix them. You could pay one of the how-to-write venues $4,000 to learn this stuff (and you can pay ME $4,000 if you like), but Tier Two will cost you a mere four bucks.
Your pledge at Tier Three gives you access to all of this material in One and Two, plus the on-going serialization of my acclaimed new novel CHROME. I’ll be adding Chromian blogs about the inspiration, research, and literary backdrop to this Tier.
Finally, your pledge at Tier Four will give you all of the above (at your leisure), plus my on-going memoir Sticks & Stones Will Break My Bones, about the violent criminal Attack against me. The aftermath of the Attack is why I need your help and support at Patreon.
Join my other patrons on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
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Check out my books and ebooks, which are being updated for 2019.
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Had extensive paper-and-pencil notes for a new story, which I prefer to do before sitting down at the computer. But I wanted to mull over the idea and plot a bit more, so lay down in bed with a pad of paper and a pencil. I played with the idea of switching the protagonist from male to female and bingo! Now I think have the story. The plot beats are mostly the same, but the context is WAY different.
Also playing with changing the antagonist in a second story from male to female. The protag remains male. Interesting possibilities.
Yet a third story has been in progress for a long time. I know what I want to say, have outlined the plot several times, but the work is still frustrating me. An editor I have in mind for the story likes over-the-top stories, often horror stories. So if I take the story in that direction, and if she doesn’t acquire it (I’ve sold to her before but she’s very particular) I wonder if I’ll be able to sell it anywhere else.
Very likely the story will be seen on my Patreon page, which is quickly becoming a viable option.
Join me on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
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ARACHNE.1.28.18.SMLL

ARACHNE, my first novel, is back in print in seven countries and an ebook in eighteen markets worldwide. We’ve updated both editions for 2019 changes.
I can’t think of a better way to begin again than with a new review at the Libreture Website, of ARACHNE. I found this on Twitter at https://twitter.com/libreture/status/1052661778436505603. The reviewer was kind enough to tag me.
“Arachne is a unique entry in the cyberpunk genre. It steps between the dystopia of William Gibson and the otherworldliness of Philip K. Dick.
Full of ‘almost’ body-horror, corporations so mega that they transact court cases in nanoseconds, and AI characters with more spiritualism in their circuits than the humans that inhabit this post Big-One San Francisco.
A must-read for cyberpunk fans!”
https://www.libreture.com/library/kevin/book/arachne/
And this also on Twitter: @nate_smith “I loved Cyberweb 🙂 Do you think you’ll write a sequel, ever? I’m an unabashed Pr. Spinner fanboy.” To which I replied @lisaSmason “Thank you! I appreciate your readership! Yes, Spyder, the third book in the Arachne trilogy, is in the works.”
ARACHNE
is my first novel, an expansion of the short story, also titled “Arachne”, which I published in OMNI magazine. The book was published in hard cover by William Morrow, reprinted in trade paperback by Eos and in mass market paperback by AvoNova. The book was also published in Japan by Hayakawa, and the short story was translated and published in various foreign anthologies. ARACHNE debuted in the top ten books on the Locus Hardcover Bestseller list. Here’s the review and the reviewer’s website link. The book links—print and ebook—follow below.
Here’s the book description:
High above the dangerous streets of post-quake San Francisco Island, mechanically modified professionals link minds in a cybernetic telespace to push through big deals and decisions at lightning speed. But unexplained telelink blackouts and bizarre hallucinations have marred mediator Carly Quester’s debut appearance before a computer-generated Venue—forcing her to consider delicate psychic surgery at the hands of a robot therapist, Prober Spinner. And suddenly the ambitious young mediator is at risk in a deadly Artificial Intelligence scheme to steal human souls—because the ghosts of Carly’s unconscious may be a prize well worth killing for.
Find the whole story behind the book and more photos at http://www.lisamason.com/arachne.html
“Powerful . . . Entertaining . . . Imaginative.”
–People Magazine
“In humanity’s daring to enter the cybernetic heaven (and hell) of telespace, Lisa Mason reveals the lineaments of all that is tragic and transcendent in our evolution. Once the journey into this vivid and terrifying future has begun, there is no returning until the infinite has been faced and the last word read.”
–David Zindell, Author of Neverness
“Cybernetics, robotics, the aftermath of San Francisco’s Big Quake II, urban tribalism—Lisa Mason combines them all with such deftness and grace, they form a living world. Mason spins an entertaining tale . . . She allows Carly’s robotic allies a measure of personality and sophistication beyond the stock role of a chirping R2D2 or a blandly sinister Hal . . . Her characters and their world will stay with you long after you’ve finished this fine book.”
–Locus, The Trade Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy
“Lisa Mason stakes out, within the cyberpunk sub-genre, a territory all her own.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle
“Arachne is an impressive debut by a writer gifted with inventiveness, wit, and insight. The characters face choices well worth reading about. This is cyberpunk with a heart.”
–Nancy Kress, Author of Brain Rose
“There is a refreshing amount of energy associated with Lisa Mason’s writing. The good old values are there: fun, excitement, drama—but served up with new and original twists. Lisa Mason is definitely a writer to watch—and to read.”
–Paul Preuss, Author of Venus Prime
“Lisa Mason must be counted among science fiction’s most distinctive voices as we rush toward the new millennium.”
–Ed Bryant
“Mason’s endearing characters and their absorbing adventures will hook even the most jaded SF fan.”
–Booklist
So there you have it, my friends. I’m delighted to announce that Arachne is Back in Print! Find the beautiful trade paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/198435602X and on Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/arachne-lisa-mason/1000035633.
Arachne (a Locus Hardover Bestseller) is also an ebook on US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle worldwide in France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.
Join me
on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com.
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

10.18.17.3.ATHENA.IN.BOX_NEW

The August Lisa Mason Story
I first told this true story, event by event, on Facebook .and received such expressions of worried suspense and relief, delight and enjoyment that I was inspired to write the lovely story below, taken one fantasy level above reality.
Some time before we adopted Athena, we saw the outstanding documentary, “The Elephant in the Living Room,” about people who are compelled to keep wild animals and the wild animals that often live near—and endanger—our civilized homes (think huge serpents, mountain lions). I have to wonder about our domesticated cats and dogs, who sometimes still have one paw in the jungle, and why we love them so.
“Crazy Chimera Lady”
Lisa Mason
“It’s now or never,” Thomas says as we breathe the scent of lavender perfuming our garden. “We should adopt another chimera. And soon.”
“Before we get too much older and have to worry about the chimera outliving you and me?” I sip my chilled chardonnay.
“Yes.” My husband contemplates his cabernet sauvignon. Thomas prefers red, I prefer white. In the two-hundred-forty-five chimera years of our marriage, we’ve never had a wine fight. We’ve both come to think about time in chimera years. It has made us feel closer to them. “And so? What do you think?”
Midnight after a productive day. I’ve woven half a tapestry commissioned by a wealthy coder. Thomas has carved a dozen gemstones for a day-trader who, despite her abrasive manners, always pays in full and on time.
“I don’t know.” I sigh. It’s been fifty-six long chimera years since Alana died at the age of a hundred-twenty-six. A good long life for an ivory-wing, a breed not known for its longevity. Six chimera years earlier, Luna had died. We didn’t know Luna’s age when we adopted her from the animal shelter, but she was a blue-wing, which is a long-lived breed. She probably had been older than Alana.
After fourteen chimera years, the grief for my girls eventually subsided. Became a distant ache rather than tears streaming down my face while I slept. Now I’m not sure I can watch another beloved chimera grow from clutchling to full-fledged to oldster and die. Which they do. Usually before we do.
“I’ve loved chimeras since I was a kid,” my husband argues. “My dad always had a clutch of seal-wings in the house. I want a chimera again, Susan, I really do.  Before it would be irresponsible of us to adopt.”
“We’re having this conversation now that we’re four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years old?” I joke. “Not when we were two-hundred-ten?”
“Yes.” Maybe Thomas is in such a serious mood because we’ve just executed our wills, powers of attorney, and all those other fun documents that force you to contemplate your own mortality. That’s not something you do when you’re two-hundred-ten, either. “Now or never, for the rest of our lives.”
“Never, then,” I whisper.
He chooses to ignore that. “I wish you’d search the Web one more time.”
It’s not as if I haven’t. Though I’ve searched only for another ivory-wing like Alana—golden eyes, plumy white tail, white feathery wings. I’d found such an enchanted creature thirty-five chimera years ago. But she was—as her foster mom honestly admitted—a biter. My seal-wing, Sita, had been a biter. Blue-eyed and beautiful, with fawn-colored wings and paws, Sita had often made my life difficult. I was a university student, then a graduate weaver looking for a husband. She’d left a scar across my left hand.
I couldn’t have a biter who looked like my gentle Alana. That would have been too hard. I had to let that chimera go.
Going on Facebook hasn’t helped. Everyone, it seems, has a beloved domesticated chimera. Posts adorable photos and videos. Chimeras snoozing in the sun. Chimeras leaping in and out of crates. Chimeras flapping happily in aviaries, fetching Frisbees. The big wild chimeras, in zoos and wildlife preserves, have their own photo opps, too. Frolicking with their clutchlings in grasslands. Soaring over mountaintops.
A Facebook friend, a weaver in Australia, started posting photos of the silver-stripe clutchlings she’d rescued from a parking lot in Sidney, and I found myself straying into the pet supplies aisle at Whole Foods. Sure enough, the Whole Paws label offers high-quality canned chimera food and bagged kibbles with a low ash content. No soy, corn, grain, or dairy. Just whole ground rabbit fortified with B-6, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals.
Rabbit—not fish, fowl, or deer—is a chimera’s food of choice in the wild. Rabbits are the reason farmers domesticated chimeras centuries ago and bred down their size. Which is fine with me. If you think rabbits are cute, you’ve never tried to grow vegetables. There’s nothing cute about ravenous lagomorphs gnawing your carrots and spinach into mulch.
I push back my patio chair, go inside to the computer. “If it’ll make you happy,” I tell Thomas, “I’ll search now.”
“It’ll make me very happy,” my husband says and follows me.
I log onto the Web, go to the usual websites—Ebay, the Tri-County Society for the Protection of Chimeras, and Purebred Chimeras Rescue. Thomas stands behind my chair, leaning over the screen.
“Oh?” I click on an Ebay listing for a blue-eyed, blue-wing clutchling. “Damn! Her breeder is up in Redding. You must be kidding me.”
“What is that, a four-hour drive from Piedmont?”
“Try five, and that’s just one way. This won’t work. I can’t see ten hours on the freeway to adopt a chimera, no matter how sweet she looks.”
Thomas brings me my glass of wine. “Keep searching.”
Tri-County has hundreds of listings of the usual domesticated chimeras. Though they look appealing and desperately need homes, we can’t find a likely candidate. We’ve both been raised with seal-wings. For the last chimera we will probably ever own, we want an exotic.
I go to Purebred Chimeras Rescue. The website has three pages of promising exotics, but they’re all males. Ara, our flame-wing who died sixty-three chimera years ago, had been a lovely boy chimera, but he didn’t have that loving maternal instinct which, in my experience, all female chimeras possess. The last chimera we will ever own has to be a girl.
Then there she is.
Baby Blue is a nine-month-old clutchling surrendered by an ailing, aging breeder to the San Jose SPOC. Purebred Chimeras Rescue took her from San Jose to their headquarters in Davis for registration, then to a vet in Salinas where she was de-wormed, given surgery under anesthetic to spay her, treated for fleas and lice, and given the full battery of vaccinations. From Salinas, PCR took her to Chimera Hill in Santa Cruz for adopting out.
“Born and bred in cages and carrying crates all her life,” Thomas says, “with a history like that.”
“Yes.” I frown. “They’re calling her a blue-wing mix, but look. She looks like a lilac-wing bred with an ivory-wing.”
“They must have named her Baby Blue on account of her eyes.”
Oh, her eyes! Her slanted, almond-shaped eyes are the color of a cloudless summer sky. Her description says she’s shy. Fearful of people. She struggles to escape when a human handles her. Possibly, the description says, she will be a problem chimera. A biter. A clawer. A potential killer.
You see that now and then on the Web. A chimera kills her human.
In the shelter’s four photos, Baby Blue looks shy and fearful and gorgeous. She looks like Luna and Alana miraculously combined into one chimera. A blue-eyed ivory-wing with a lilac face-mask, artistic splotches of lilac on her silky white coat and wings, and a plumy lilac tail.
My fingertips hesitate on the keyboard. “What do you think?”
“Fill out the application,” Thomas says. “Do it, Susan.”
“A problem chimera?”
“She’s young. We can train her.” He adds, “She needs us.”
I feverishly navigate through the website. “You know, it will be a lot of extra work, caring for a chimera again. Just when our businesses are doing so well. Our careers transitioning into Act Two.”
I can picture who will take care of the chimera. Clean her eyes, trim her talons, floss her fangs, brush her coat, comb her wing feathers, feed her rabbit meat, change her drinking water, clean her litter box, take her out into the aviary, toss around chimera toys, ooh and aah.
That will be me.
Thomas looks at me. “I’ll take care of her, too. I promise.”
“It’s till death do us part. When she dies, we’ll be a whole lot closer to our own deaths. Are you prepared for that?”
“Absolutely. I’ll work harder than ever on the gemstones. Please, Susan.”
I click on “Apply.”
The application asks a lot of nosy questions. Are we married? Do we rent or own our home? Do we have children living there? How about other animals? Are we financially secure? What is our estimate of an acceptable veterinarian bill for medical services? Do we have heirs or other arrangements for the chimera if anything happens to us? Do we know how to train a chimera? What is our position on neutering, de-taloning, de-fanging, wing-clipping?
Neutering, yes. Everything else, no.
The application requires that we provide two local personal references and their phone numbers. It’s sobering and a little saddening to realize that, at four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years, Thomas and I don’t have a lot of local references. Friends have died or moved away. We’ve each run our independent businesses for a hundred-seventy-five chimera years, deal with gallery owners and clients and agents, but don’t have business partners or employees. Thomas’ parents and step-parents died many chimera years ago, as have mine. His cousins live in Washington State, my only sibling in Colorado.
I understand, I suppose. Purebred Chimeras Rescue is serious about adopting out chimeras to legitimate people. Not to people who would adopt an exotic chimera, then resell her for three times the price. Or de-talon and de-fang and clip her wings. Or sell her to a research laboratory. Or sacrifice her in some satanic ritual.
I shudder to think of it.
We’ve got Stuart as a local reference. Stuart is my tech guy at General Computer Store who replaced the motherboard on my aging Dell. And we’ve got Yoshio, a recluse who’s lived in our neighborhood for two-hundred-and-one chimera years. Yoshio owns a hundred-forty-year-old blue-eyed blue-wing. This last March, he asked us to feed, water, medicate, and fly her while he went off on his annual hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We gladly did.
I electronically sign and send the application. “When I was at the university,” I tell Thomas, “I saw an ad for Sita in the Ann Arbor Gazette. I drove to a farm outside of town, handed over ten bucks, and left with my clutchling, fleas and all. No questions asked.”
“It’s a different world,” Thomas agrees.
The next morning a woman emails me. She identifies herself as Gwyneth from Purebred Chimeras Rescue, asks for my phone number and when is a good time to call for an interview.
An interview? Yes. She informs me that twelve other people have applied for Baby Blue. That we shouldn’t be too disappointed if we don’t get her.
“What?” I shout at Thomas. “We finally find a chimera who could be our last and they’re playing games?”
“Send her another email,” Thomas says. “Insist. You’re good at insisting.”
I send Gwyneth another email reiterating how much we want this chimera. I beg and plead. I send the Web address of my weaver’s website, which features two pages of Luna and Alana, two pages of my husband’s carved gemstones, and twenty pages of my award-winning tapestries. A photo of Thomas and me on our wedding day. A photo of me holding Alana in our kitchen. Her furry white arms wrapped lovingly around my shoulders, plumy white tail curled around my waist, white wings fluttering. Thomas took it, one of those once-in-a-lifetime photos you cherish forever.
Gwyneth calls exactly at three in the afternoon.
“So you were this hot-shot industrial weaver and you left it all to make art?” she begins. For someone who wants to adopt out a chimera for a hefty fee—two thousand dollars, cash or check, no credit cards—her tone sounds  a bit belligerent.
My story is no secret. I’ve laid out my checkered life on my Bio page. “Yep,” I say amiably. “I love the craft of weaving. I just didn’t fit into an industrial setting.”
If she thought I was going to pull an attitude, apparently she doesn’t think so anymore. “I know exactly what you mean,” she replies. “I’m an architect myself, but I didn’t like dealing with clients. Now I run a boarding facility for chimeras. Go figure.”
“Which is amazing,” I say and mean it. I looked up Chimera Hill on Facebook. Found photos of a clapboard house beneath a giant avocado tree. Gwyneth is expanding the house, constructing aviaries adjacent to the cages so the chimeras can stretch their wings in the sunlight. “Really amazing.”
She gives a little chimera-like trill. Quizzes me about my previous chimeras. Had Sita, the biter, been de-taloned? Yes, she had. Vets did that in those unenlightened days. Now they won’t because it’s cruel.
“Oh, some vets still de-talon,” Gwyneth snaps. “That’s probably why Sita became a biter. Talons are a chimera’s first defense in the wild.”
“That’s a good point. Extract the talons, and the chimera has to resort to her fangs.”
“Exactly.” Gwyneth sounds pleased. “Do you understand about chimera nutrition? You and your husband look like New-Agey types.”
She’s baiting me. “I totally understand. Chimeras are obligate carnivores.” I recently stumbled upon this term in a chimera magazine. I’m happy to trot it out now.
“Obligate carnivores,” Gwyneth echoes as if she’s never heard the term before, either, but will use it to good advantage with some hapless interviewee in the future. “How do you feel about adopting a female chimera? Some people think they’re inferior to males.”
“Oh, no! We definitely want a female.”
“Okay.” A rustle of papers on her end. ”Just so you know, we’re keeping Baby Blue in a cage with two males. When the vet spayed her two weeks ago, she wasn’t pregnant.”
I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t want our chimera staying in that cage one more night. “I’ll come and get Baby Blue tomorrow.”
“I’ll pencil you in for Saturday.” Gwyneth is paying for the long-distance call but that doesn’t mean she’s allowed to bully me.
“Gwyneth, Saturday is the Fourth of July. Traffic will be hellish up to Santa Cruz. Drunk drivers?”
“Yeah, but tomorrow’s not good.” More rustling of papers. “Our reference checker has to teach class tomorrow. How about Thursday?”
They’re actually going to call Stuart and Yoshio? “Thursday, it is. I will be there for my chimera and I will see you then.” I’m not taking no for an answer.
“I’ll email you directions. Is Thomas coming with you?” Her tone turns coy. “His gemstones are beautiful.”
So she has given our website a going-over. How many of the other twelve applicants have a website with two pages of chimera pictures? “Nope. Thomas will be taking the chimera tree out of storage. And the water bowls and food bowls and chimera toys. And staking up the aviary in the backyard. Our new chimera will be the heiress to the bounty of our chimeras past.”
“Wonderful,” she trills. “But I do hope Thomas will come. I’d love to meet him. He’s really cute.”
I smile. “Yes, he is.”
For the rest of the brand-new August Lisa Mason cat fantasy story, join Tier 2 on my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Thank you!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, blogs, roundtables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!