Thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

last jedi 2

This isn’t any kind of formal review of the movie, just some personal reactions to what’s been happening in a galaxy far, far away.

When I was ten years old and saw The Empire Strikes Back for the first time (I was a bit too young for the first movie, and had to back-track), I never thought I’d be watching new Star Wars films with gray in my hair. Of course, I never thought I’d have gray hair, or ever be over twenty years old, for that matter.

My point is, when I was a kid, Star Wars was magical. It could do no wrong (although, at the age of thirteen, I had some trouble taking the Ewoks seriously). It had taken a permanent place in my heart as something I held very dear, and always would. Return of the Jedi’s happy ending left me feeling satisfied and that all was well with the universe.

Except it wasn’t. There are no lasting happy endings, and as someone with a little gray in her hair, I understand that now.

Prequels and stand-alone movies never mattered to me. What mattered were the original characters I came to know and love, and what happened to them. So when I heard that Episodes seven, eight and nine were being made, I paid attention.

The Force Awakens, for the most part, pleased me, but you can go here and see how I reacted to Han Solo’s death. I whined and belly-ached that it wasn’t a worthy death. Of course it wasn’t, that was the whole point. It got me engaged, it made me angry and I wanted justice. I was invested on an emotional level, which is what any good story should do.

And The Last Jedi? I don’t know. Despite numerous space battles and personal skirmishes (and believe me, I was a bit battle-weary by the end of the movie), I wasn’t wowed. I understand that part of the appeal of Star Wars is exciting space battles, but maybe we’ve seen so much of it in so many movies lately that we’ve grown numb to it. I have, anyway. In the original films, there was maybe one big battle the story line was culminating to, or it began the film and there was fallout from it. Now we’re just bombarded with explosions and violence and it’s supposed to entertain us. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I need more than that.

There were some character arcs that I found interesting. The whole Kylo Ren/Rey connection (even though orchestrated by Snoke [and where the heck did that guy come from, anyway?]) was illuminating. The internal struggle between Kylo Ren and Ben Solo has been made painfully clear, and it’s equally clear that the minimally-trained Rey is having problems controlling her emotions, namely anger, impatience, fear, and hatred. And we all know where those emotions lead, don’t we, kids? So while one still has a spark of light, and the other is vulnerable to the dark, they both still stubbornly hold to their courses. Still no clue as to who Rey’s parents might be, even though Kylo Ren asserted that they were nobody. I doubt it.

There were several new characters this time around, including Rose, a Resistance fighter who helps Finn on a mission to find a codebreaker to shut down a tracking device so….oh, never mind. I really thought they’d find Lando Calrissian in that gambling city, but they only found this weird guy played by Benicio del Toro, whose character name I don’t remember, if I ever caught it at all. A business man who doesn’t take sides, only the side of money. I’m assuming by the end of the trilogy, he’ll find his heart and do the right thing, like an erstwhile Han Solo.

In fact, I found too many echoes of the original here. I noticed them in The Force Awakens, but I was willing to forgive it in the first movie, as a means of making us feel we’re in familiar territory. Not now. The same exact themes are explored here, which in itself would not be unforgivable, but it is when it’s almost word for word. When Kylo Ren tempts Rey to turn to the dark side and join him to rule the universe, I just had this sinking feeling (I have a really bad feeling about this…). Come on, guys. You’re creative geniuses. You can do better than that.

I think my favorite secondary characters were the porgs and the crystal foxes. Way better than Ewoks. Just wanted to say that.

porgcrystal fox

Of course the most important character to me in this film is Luke. Or, as I like to call him, Dark Luke. Not the Dark Side, just dark. This is not the sunny, optimistic farmboy from A New Hope, or even the newly mature and sober Luke from Return of the Jedi. This is a weathered Luke who’s given up all hope, who’s given up, well, everything. Even the Force. His failure with Ben Solo has crushed him. He is heavy with regret and despair. He’s got a bit of gray in his hair.

I like him.

Mark Hamill himself has made comments on how he was a little disappointed in the way Luke is portrayed in this film. He felt that Luke, a Jedi, would never give up, that he’d be stronger than that. I suppose. But I find that I dig Dark Luke. He’s much more interesting than he’s ever been before. He’s realistic. He’s an older, wiser Luke who’s been battered by life. Just like the rest of us. He’s not a hero, he’s real. I also loved Yoda’s little cameo. I dug Dark Luke, but he did need a bit of scolding.

But naturally, he becomes a hero in the end. I liked that little trick he played on Kylo Ren. Luke’s death was a worthy death, a good death. I’m satisfied on that point.

dark luke

So, while there are certainly flaws in Episode 8, I’m still in. I want to know what will happen. I’m curious to see how Leia’s character will be dealt with considering the untimely death of Carrie Fisher. Episode 9 was supposed to be her showcase, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least we got to see her escape death in the film–even cold, dark space can’t kill our Princess!

 

Are you a fan? What did you think of The Last Jedi? Drop a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recent Obsessions

Here’s what I can’t get enough of lately:

TV: Stranger Things, Seasons 1 & 2.

stranger things

They had me at 1983. I was 12 years old, just like the kids of Hawkins, Indiana. I wasn’t playing D&D (alas, I’m a girl), but I remember the music, the hair, that sense of being, well, a weirdo. I’d watch this show for the pure nostalgia (casting 80s icons Winona Ryder and Mathew Modine was a nice touch, and they’re great here), but it’s so much more than that.

Ryder plays Joyce Byers, whose sensitive son Will has gone missing, literally out of this world. Will’s crew of faithful, geeky friends are determined to find him; they meet a mysterious girl named Eleven who seems to have supernatural powers, and perhaps knows where Will is. Meanwhile, the town’s police chief Jim Hopper (the wonderful David Harbour), investigates, and climbs deeper into the strange happenings centering around the secretive lab nearby. Strange indeed, but addicting, replete with monsters, a parallel universe, and a surprising amount of heart.

(And because I couldn’t get enough, I watched “Beyond Stranger Things”, a series of short interviews with the cast and creators the Duffer Brothers, which was fun to watch, too).

Movies: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

PPzombies

How can I not love this? It blends two of my favorite things: Jane Austen and The Walking Dead (disclaimer: I haven’t watched the last two seasons of WD–I just couldn’t deal with the never-ending heartache). There are Austen purists who sniff at any tampering with their beloved author’s work (and I know some who dismiss any movie version outside of the Firth-Ehle pairing), but I’m not one of them. Let’s face it, adding a little blood and gore to Regency England’s genteel society is just great fun.

Lizzie Bennet’s weapon has always been her words, but here she wields a sword to add to her considerable arsenal. Austen’s story plays out with the usual, well-know scenes: the country dance where Lizzie and Darcy meet, the Netherfield ball, Mr. Collins’ unwanted proposal, the visit to Rosings, Wickham’s deception. But here England has been invaded by a terrible plague that turns people into zombies; everyone must train in the martial arts to defend themselves from the scourge. Darcy is a colonel in the army; the Bennet girls strap knives to their thighs under their dresses and carry swords and guns.

My favorite scene is Darcy’s botched proposal to Lizzie–while they verbally spar, they engage in a physical fight, throwing each other around the room and attacking with pokers and letter openers. I never knew I wanted Lizzie to kick Darcy’s ass in this scene until I saw it! The plot devolves into a weird zombie scheme involving Wickham, but rest assured, the lovers come to each other’s rescue and overcome their pride and prejudice to wed in the end.

Books: Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

dark tower

I’ve been in a King kind of mood lately, just having read Sleeping Beauties (click here for a mini-review). With the movie The Dark Tower recently in theaters, my interest was piqued. I didn’t get around to the movie, so I thought I’d check out the first book of his epic fantasy series, The Gunslinger.

Here’s the premise: Roland, the last Gunslinger in an alternate world, pursues the Man in Black across a desert wasteland in his quest to find the Dark Tower. That’s about all we know. What’s a Gunslinger? What happened to this decaying world that has “moved on”? Who is the Man in Black? What is the significance of the Dark Tower? Answers come slowly and incompletely. King’s writing style here is different than what most of us are used to, dense and perhaps a bit pretentious, as King admits to in his forward. He came up with the idea very early on in his career, fresh out of writing seminars that dictated language over story. But he knew he wanted to combine the quest story (like Lord of the Rings) with a spaghetti western-style protagonist and landscape.

Despite some initial impatience, I kept on reading the book, and found myself drawn in. I’m well into the second book, The Drawing of the Three, which employs the King voice and style we’re all familiar with, and know I’ll continue with the other books (7 or 8 in all), though probably over time, interspersed with other books. Now that I’ve started, I have to know what happens. I have to penetrate the mystery of the Dark Tower.

 

What’s obsessing you lately? Interested in any of these entertainments? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

What’s Been on My Kindle

Here are a few books I’ve been enjoying lately:

See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt.

see what I have done

When I saw there was a novelization on the story of Lizzie Borden, I knew I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. Schmidt speculates on what might have gone through the mind of 32-year old Lizzie, during the days leading up to her father and stepmother’s ax murders in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. The result is appropriately creepy and mesmerizing, alternating between Lizzie’s point of view with that of her sister Emma, as well as that of a possible intruder on that fateful day. What emerges is a claustrophobic tale of rage and jealousy that culminated in murder.

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen and Owen King.

sleeping beauties

I’m not the kind of King fan that reads every single novel he puts out, but every once in a while I’ll read one that stands out for me for whatever reason. And when I do, I’m reminded of why he is, indeed, the King. He wrote this one with his son, Owen, and I loved it. What if the women of the world fell asleep and didn’t wake up? That’s the premise of this story, which takes place in the small Appalachian town of Dooley. Women all around the world are falling asleep, presumably from what is being called the “Aurora virus”, and becoming cocooned in a white, web-like substance. Any attempt at unwrapping the women and waking them up leads to the sleepers becoming violent, with fatal results. In Dooley, a woman called Evie appears, the only woman who can sleep and wake again, and who seems to possess supernatural powers. How is she connected to the Aurora phenomenon? As the men left behind become increasingly desperate to wake their women up, Evie polarizes them into two factions who will fight either to protect her or threaten her. In the meantime, the sleeping women of Dooley find themselves in an alternate world with no men (and doing quite fine on their own, thank you), and must eventually make a fateful decision whether to stay and make a go of it, or go back to what was. This is a timely, fascinating story on the essential natures of men and women, wrapped up in a riveting supernatural tale that I found impossible to put down.

The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman.

rules of magic

I read Hoffman’s Practical Magic years ago (and watched the movie, of course) and enjoyed both. Even though my recollection of the story was vague, I was ready to read this prequel. Practical Magic was about the two Owen sisters, Sally and Gillian; this book centers on the youth of their elderly aunts, Frannie and Jet, as well as a heretofore unknown brother, Vincent. The setting is 1960’s New York City, for the most part, and the iconic events of that decade as a backdrop for the formative years of the Owens siblings. Frannie, the eldest, is practical and logical, and plans on becoming a scientist; Jet is sweet and a great beauty, and Vincent is independent and headstrong. All three of them have witchy powers, and all must contend with the “Owen curse” which dooms any person they fall in love with. I’ve always enjoyed Hoffman’s magical realism, and this one is no exception.

 

Have you read any of these books? What have you been reading lately? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

Keep Stabbing

Reassurance can come in some strange ways, sometimes.

Lilly  has been struggling with urinary tract infections (UTIs) for some time now. Every time it seems we have a handle on it, it comes back, like some monster that won’t die. I’m starting to suspect that the bacteria has begun to build a resistance to antibiotics. She just finished her latest round of cephalexin a few days ago; now she’s complaining of pain in her lower abdomen again, and pain with cathing.

Fed up with going to the doctor only to have more antibiotics prescribed, I’ve decided to try a different route: D-mannose. It’s a concentrate of the active ingredient in cranberries that helps with UTI’s. It’s better than drinking gallons of cranberry juice (which Lilly doesn’t like) with all the sugar in it that can cause more problems. I asked for advice on the spina bifida support group that I’m part of, and many people have recommended this natural product, along with some probiotics. I did a bit of research, and feel it’s a viable route for Lilly at this point.

d mannose

I couldn’t get my hands on any D-mannose at any of the three pharmacies here in our town, so I had to order it online (and pay an exorbitant amount of shipping to have it get here today). I’m going to try it for a several days, but if she doesn’t seem to get better, I’ll certainly get her to the doctor.

Lilly woke up this morning at 4:00 am needing to be cathed. Afterward, she was in such pain it brought her to tears. I gave her some generic AZO, and waited an interminable 10 or so minutes for it to kick in and her pain to subside. It finally did, but while my daughter was lying beside me in bed, writhing in pain and crying, the old meaningless questions roiled through my head again: Why does she have to go through this? Why my child? How are we going to deal with this over and over and over? Where am I going to find the strength to keep soldiering on with this? (Not just the UTI’s, but everything involved with SB).

She finally went back to sleep, and so did I. I dreamed Lilly and I were together in some big building. The building was filled with zombies (stick with me here). I had to protect her. I couldn’t carry her, she’s too big and heavy. She can’t run fast. The zombies were everywhere, endless, overwhelming. I picked up some meager but sharp weapons I found on the floor, one in each hand. I didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to be here, but here I was. As we hustled down hallways and zombies came near, I stabbed them in the chest. Over and over, I stabbed those monsters. Then I realized I’d done it wrong; you have to stab them in the head for them to die, or they’ll only come back. I doubled back and stabbed them again, this time in the head. Every time, I waited for that scratch or bite that would doom me, but it never happened. Stab, run, hide. Stab, run, hide. It went on and on; it seemed I had never known anything else.

zombies
E.coli’s coming! Again…and again…and again.

The mission never changed: keep her safe, keep her alive. We finally ended up in some small room or closet. I was trying to bar the door when I woke up as my husband came into the bedroom to get ready for work. I was never so happy for him to wake me up in the morning.

My first thought was: thank god, there’s no zombie apocalypse. My next thought was, yeah, okay, I get it. I can do this. I’m a warrior. I’ll do whatever I have to, and we’ll somehow get through it. Tools will be provided. Help will arrive.

You may not know why there’s a zombie apocalypse, but you still have to deal with it. There’s no time to ask why; you just have to keep stabbing.

(This was supposed to go on my other blog Beautiful Detour, about Lilly and spina bifida, but my scatterbrain put it here instead. Enjoy!)

 

 

Sci-fi Shenanigans

So I went to the theater to see Blade Runner 2049, and loved, loved, loved it. Loved the original, and the sequel is just as good (and that’s saying a lot). I haven’t written a review. Just go see it. Right now. I want to again.

gosling blade runner
Ryan Gosling as K/Joe.

But instead I’m pondering the story I’ve been working on the past few weeks. Having been inspired by Blade Runners 1&2 and in that futuristic frame of mind, I was wondering if I could possibly write a decent science fiction story. I’m not particularly scientifically-minded, and the only sci-fi story I’ve attempted is my computer chip-brain-implantation story called Plugged In. 

But I remembered a story idea I had a few years ago based on a writing prompt from Writer’s Digest: someone knocks on your character’s door, says (s)he is from the future and is here to save his or her life. Write the story. I came up with a time-travel idea and wrote the first few pages, but then abandoned it. I’m not sure why, probably distracted by another idea (I have that problem). But now seemed like the perfect time to take it out again, dust it off, and finish that amazing story.

Well, as I began again, my mind started to twist into a pretzel contemplating the realities of time travel. I googled “time travel rules for fiction”, and it turns out there’s a few (at least if you don’t want a physicist to cringe), and my story idea violated most of them. So I brainstormed some more and managed to solve most of those problems. As I brainstormed, my story became more and more complicated, with more characters and some futuristic world-building. More problems cropped up, both logistic and creative. But I didn’t mind; this is what I loved about writing: solving plot problems, creating characters, diving into a world of my own imagining.

As my story became more complex, I realized I was probably writing a novel. Hey, November is coming up. Maybe I could write it for NaNoWriMo. All I had to do was spend the next few weeks of October planning structure and tying up a few loose ends before I began writing the actual story on November 1. But the more I explored the story and its details, the more roadblocks I encountered. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together with pieces that don’t quite fit, trying to force the picture to come into focus. Crap. Now what?

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to persevere with the idea until I get it right (never mind Nanowrimo), or let it go for now and work on something else. Maybe I’m not cut out for science fiction. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Or maybe I’m giving up too quickly. Maybe, like marriage, I need to hang in there and hammer out the problems, even when it’s not fun anymore.

Maybe I should just go see Blade Runner again and call it a day.

 

 

Book and Movie Recap

Time for my periodic summary of what I’ve been reading and watching the past few months. Because I know you’re dying to know.

Books:

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle.

changeling

This is a wonderfully updated version of the changeling myth: a creature (in this case, a troll) steals an infant and leaves in its place a nearly identical facsimile. That this story is written from an African American point of view adds to its freshness. Apollo and his wife Emma have welcomed a new baby boy to their family, but soon Emma begins acting strangely, perhaps with post-partum depression. But when she commits a horrendous act and disappears, Apollo is left reeling. Soon he begins a quest to find his wife and son, but what he finds is beyond anything he had ever imagined.

My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier.

cousin rachel

Daphne du Maurier wrote dozens of books, and somehow I’d only read Rebecca, her most famous book. With the release of the movie version of My Cousin Rachel (which I haven’t seen yet, but will soon), my attention was brought to this wonderful book. Young Englishman Philip suspects that his cousin and guardian Ambrose has been murdered by his wife, Rachel. He hates her before he even meets her, but when she arrives at his home, he begins to fall in love with her. Will history repeat itself? The mystery behind Rachel is the driving force of this addicting novel.

Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins.

into the water

I loved Hawkin’s previous book, The Girl on the Train, and wasn’t disappointed with her latest. Into the Water takes place in a small town called Beckford, where the Drowning Pool has seen its fair share of women victims, through suicide or otherwise. Two women have drowned in the river within two months when the novel begins: Katie, a fifteen year old girl who drowned herself, and Nel, a woman who had been writing a book on the river and its victims, whose death is being investigated as a possible murder. Hawkins is deliciously good at drawing the reader in with multiple points of view, imperfect characters with secrets, and agonizing suspense. Excellent.

Natalie Goldberg: Long Quiet Highway, Thunder and Lightning, The Great Failure, The Great Spring. I’ve been on a Goldberg bender for awhile, catching up on all of her books I hadn’t yet read. Long Quiet Highway is her first memoir from way back in 1993. Thunder and Lightning is a writing book I had read years ago and wanted to read again. The Great Failure is a memoir exploring the two father figures in her life: her real father and her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. The Great Spring is her latest memoir, a collection of essays gathered together exploring her two great loves: writing and Zen.

Movies:

The Light Between the Oceans.

oceans movie

Finally watched the movie version of the book I read several months ago. Excellent performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz. The script stays fairly close to the book, about a couple in 1920 Australia who finds a baby in a boat (along with a dead man) washed up on shore of their lighthouse island. After having endured several devastating miscarriages, they decide to keep the child to raise as their own. Predictably, this leads to heartbreak and anguish.

Her.

her movie

This has to be the strangest, most wonderful movie I’ve seen in a long time. The always stellar Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a man who falls in love with a computer program named Samantha, a kind of AI that can learn and evolve over time. It sounds weird, but Samantha has a real personality–she just doesn’t have a body. It’s a great exploration of what it means to be in love, what is real, and letting go.

Manchester by the Sea.

manchester sea

Holy cow. Does anyone say Holy Cow anymore? Let me reiterate: Holy cow! This movie is amazing. I didn’t even know Ben Affleck had a younger brother who acted, but here’s Casey Affleck out of nowhere (at least to me) winning an Oscar for his role of Lee Chandler, who’s been appointed guardian of his 16-year old nephew after his brother dies. But Lee is haunted by tragedy, and he struggles with his newfound role to the nephew he loves. Emotionally wrecking, but worth every two hours and fifteen minutes of it.

Have you read any of these books or seen any of these movies? What did you think? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

By the way, this is also my 200th post on My Writing Journey. Go me!

 

 

Dark Fens of Cedar (5)

Go here for Part 4 of Dark Fens of Cedar.

(3,600 words)

dark forest 5

She realized she was smiling. “I’m good. What else can I do for you?”

 

She spent the rest of the afternoon in the laundry room, washing and drying several loads, humming to herself, not minding the vomit-stained sheets and clothing. The work felt good, purposeful, grounding her in the moment.

Jack read to his mother, and when she fell asleep, he busied himself in the kitchen, making cold-meat sandwiches for them to eat on the back deck with cold glasses of Diet Coke. She talked about her favorite poets (besides Eldridge, there was Dickinson and Whitman); he pointed out and named various flowers and plants in the garden in the corner of the yard, along with their Latin names. The sun made their glasses sweat, the ice cubes melting and shifting in the bubbly liquid. She wished Jack’s mother wasn’t dying in this lush, glorious spring; she wished Annie’s life hadn’t been cut short during the act of giving birth. Death trailed life like a black dog, never letting you forget that bitter balance.

When Jack’s father came home in the twilit evening, Jack drove her back to the B&B, and her thread of unease returned.

“You’re sure you want me to stay?” he asked, when he parked in the gravel driveway.

“If you don’t want to, I understand–”

“No, I’d love to. I mean, if it will help. You’ve helped me so much today. I want to return the favor. Are you sure it’s…” He hesitated.

“Appropriate?” She waggled her left hand at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not engaged anymore.”

“Oh.”

She got out of the car before he could ask any questions.

In her room, she pulled out the rock and put it back on the bedside table. If it was the cause of her dreaming about Annie, she might as well make sure it was front and center. It was only 7:30, and she wasn’t tired at all. Jack stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“Are you familiar with Eldridge’s poems?” she asked him, retrieving the small volume from her backpack.

“I’ve read a few of them, during the course of my work at the Historical Society. But I haven’t committed any to memory, or anything like that.”

She snorted. “Well, neither have I. They’re lovely, though. We could read some.”

“All right.”

She sat down on the floor and leaned against the bed. He sat cross-legged across from her.

Eldridge’s sonnets were lilting and lyrical, and as she read she went into a kind of trance. She’d often read them alone in her head, or sometimes out loud; but sharing them with someone else imparted a joy she rarely had a chance to experience.

Whenever she finished a poem, she’d look over at Jack, and he’d smile and say nothing. She appreciated that he didn’t feel the need to comment or analyze any of it. He simply absorbed the words and accepted them for what they were. After a while, she offered him the book, and he’d read a poem. They took turns like this, with only Eldridge’s words between them.

The last one he read was this one:

 

Dark fens of cedar, hemlock-branches gray

With trees and trail of mosses wringing-wet;

Beds of the black pitch-pine in dead leaves set

Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;

Remnants of rain and droppings of decay,-

Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let

Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday,

The faded glimmer of a sunshine set?

Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,

The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?

Far from the roar of day, beneath your boughs

Fresh griefs beat tranquilly, and loves and vows

Grow green in your gray shadows, dearer far

Even than all lovely lights, and roses are?

 

When he finished, he didn’t look up. By the set of his mouth, Hannah could see he was working through his own grief. She took the book from him and closed it.

“He wrote that one after Annie died,” she said. “He didn’t write much more after that.”

He finally looked up at her. “Can’t top that, I guess.”

“He was really quite talented. It’s sad that no one knows him.”

“You’ll try to fix that with your thesis, right?”

She shrugged. “I’m not even sure if I’ll finish it now. How can I, knowing what I know about Annie, but not being able to prove it?”

“You’ll find it. Don’t give up.”

She nodded, and they were silent, lost in their own thoughts.

“I wonder what she wrote about.” He said it with the utmost conviction, never questioning her belief that Annie was a poet.

He was of the air, and she was of the earth.”

He threw her a questioning look. “A line of Annie’s,” she said. Like a bubble suddenly surfacing. “She wrote about the only things she knew–her experience of being a woman. The messiness of it. Childbirth, blood, the body. Desire. Aspirations for more–all the things people weren’t supposed to talk about in polite society, all the things women certainly weren’t supposed to think about. She was far ahead of her time.”

After a thoughtful pause, he said, “Do you think Eldridge destroyed them? After she died?”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” It was entirely possible, in which case the world would never know about Annie’s poetry. And yet, Jonathan had been astonished at her brilliance. Could he really have destroyed his wife’s extraordinary work?

“Maybe we’ll find out,” he said. “When you go to sleep.”

“I’m a little afraid.” Her stomach roiled. “Okay, I’m a lot afraid.” Myths about dying while dreaming of death plagued her. What if she never woke up?

“I’ll be right here,” Jack said. “I’ll wake you if I think anything’s wrong. I promise.”

She couldn’t quite believe he was real. “Why don’t you think I’m crazy?”

“Because if you are, I am, too.” He couldn’t meet her eyes as he went on. “I’ve always felt weird up at the property, but with you here, it’s much stronger. I don’t understand it, I never have, but now that you’re here, I feel like I can try to make some sense of it. It’s like, I’ve been waiting for you to come here and show me.” His cheeks grew pink in that familiar way. “That sounds so stupid.” But he looked up and didn’t take his eyes off hers.

She wanted to kiss him. I have waited centuries for your touch. The words floated up from some deep churning sea within her.

There were so many prudent reasons, just now, not to kiss him. His mother was dying. She’d just broken off her engagement that very day. They’d just met two days ago. Maybe even more importantly, she knew a kiss would lead to more, and she was aware of the blood still seeping from her. She didn’t want to begin this budding thing between them with blood. She could wait a little longer.

“It’s not stupid. You’re right.” She broke their gaze and climbed up onto the bed. “I think I should go to sleep now and maybe get some answers for us.” She kicked off her shoes, and pulled the quilt at the end of the bed over herself.

“Should I shut the light off?” Jack asked.

“No, keep it on, please.”

He leaned against the side of the bed and picked up Eldridge’s book of poems. “I’ll be right here, Hannah.”

She closed her eyes, but sleep was slow in coming. She was nervous, but she was also aware of Jack’s presence, the rustling pages of the book, the rock resting on the bedside table, watching them like a glittering eye. She indulged in thoughts of plunging her hand into his thick dark hair, not far from her fingers on the mattress.

 

She floated up from the depths of her fever to see him kneeling beside the bed, his dark head face down in his arm at her side. She moved her fingers toward him, and it was like moving underwater. She plunged her fingers into his thick hair, and he instantly looked up with worried eyes.

“Annie!” He grasped her damp hand and brought it to his lips.

She tried to smile at him, but there was still pain; the flow of blood continued to soak the rag between her legs. But it was the absence in her belly that crushed her now. The girl she pushed out two days ago had been perfectly formed, though in miniature, blue with death. She’d insisted on holding her before the doctor wrapped her up and whisked her away. She’d been dry-eyed while Jonathan wept nearby. They’d named her Sarah. Even before the fever took hold, Annie knew she’d see her again before long.

Yesterday, she’d called for her children, though Jonathan would have shielded them from seeing her in a such a state. But she felt time slipping away from her, and she would see their sweet faces one more time.

Lizzie, barely two, wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t remember. Her strong, willful personality would probably get her into trouble someday, but she’d do all right. Annie had kissed her fat cheeks and let her go into Agnes’ arms. Silent tears fell from the housekeeper’s eyes.

Robert, at four and a half, sensitive and perceptive like his father, would remember her, just enough to be haunted by the vague nightmare of her death. He cried and clung to her, and she stroked and kissed him as her heart broke.

“You must help me now, my little man, and be strong for Papa. Can you do that for me?”

He’d sniffed and nodded, and she could see that he would live the rest of his life trying to follow that directive. A little sob escaped her as Agnes took the children from the room.

Now she looked at her disheveled husband, and she knew that her death would break him into pieces. There was only one thing she could do for him now.

“Jonathan, go fetch my poems.”

“Not now, my love. I don’t want to leave you.”

“Please.” She squeezed his hand in supplication. He capitulated and shuffled out of the room, returning a few minutes later with the stack of papers in his arms, a little haphazardly; they’d been hastily gathered and piled together after her collapse. He sat down next to her on the bed and set her work beside her.

The fireplace in the bedroom was blazing. She’d been shivering uncontrollably, despite the fever. On the bedside table beside her, the rock he had given her gleamed in the firelight.

“Shall I read them to you?” Jonathan asked, reaching for the first page in the pile.

She put her hand on his to stop him. “No. Put them in the fire.”

He stared at her, then shook his head. “No. No I will not.”

“Listen to me. I was selfish, I see that now. If anyone discovers these poems, they’ll ruin you. You know it. You must destroy them.”

He was still shaking his head, but she could see the struggle inside him. He did know. “Annie…”

“Please Jonathan, do this for me. Letting them go is the only thing I can do for you now.”

The dim light of the room shone in the tears in his eyes. “You’re not going to die.”

She managed to smile after all. “Then I’ll write them again. They’re all up here.” She pointed to her head, which seemed to be swimming in a vast ocean, deep and limitless. Her smile faded. “The world’s not ready for them, my love. I hope someday it will be. Someone else will find the words again. I’m ready to let them go.” She was nearly ready to let everything go; she just needed to see the words burn first. “Please. For me, if not for you.”

He spent several minutes wiping his eyes. Then he sighed and got to his feet heavily, pulling the stack of papers with him. He looked at her one more time, and she nodded, lifting her arm with great effort toward the fireplace.

He knelt before the flames. He sat there for a long time, and she thought maybe he wouldn’t do it. Finally, he lifted the first page, and after a brief hesitation, threw it into the fire.

She exhaled, with relief and sorrow both, and watched as he continued to thrust the papers into the hungry flames, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, wanting perhaps to get it over with quickly.

With each group of words that burned, she felt herself getting lighter and lighter, as if they’d anchored her to the earth, to life, and now she was being set free. Her husband looked very far away now, down a long corridor that lengthened and grew dim. His voice echoed as he turned and said, “It’s done.”

It was done. She was done. She could let it all go now. She wanted to tell Jonathan that everything was all right now, but the corridor was getting narrower, dimmer; he was as distant as a shining star she wanted to reach out and touch. She had to let him go, too.

She wasn’t sure if she closed her eyes, or if darkness enveloped her completely. She was afraid, but also curious to see what came next.

 

Hannah opened her eyes. Someone was shaking her.

“Annie! Annie, please. Please don’t leave me!”

Jack was sobbing beside her, his face contorted, his eyes seeing but not seeing her. His fingers dug painfully into her arms.

She struggled to sit up. “Jack, it’s okay. It’s me. It’s Hannah.” She cupped his face in her hands, made him look into her eyes. “I’m all right. It’s Hannah, I’m here.”

“Hannah?” Recognition dawned, and anguish faded away into confusion. “What’s happening? I don’t…I don’t understand what’s happening.”

Tears still leaked from his eyes, and she wiped them away. “Did you fall asleep?”

His hand shook as he passed it over his face. “I think so.” He looked around the room, remembering. “I read Eldridge’s poems for a while. You were asleep. I got up and sat next to you on the bed, just watching you. I must have fallen asleep, and then…then…”

“You were with me, weren’t you? In the–dream–or whatever it was.”

His head was in his hands, and he didn’t reply.

“Jack,” she said, “You were there in the room. When Annie was dying. You were Jonathan.”

He raised his head, his eyes haunted. “I knelt by the bed. I knew you were–” He corrected himself. “I knew Annie was dying. She looked like a ghost, pale and feverish. She wanted me to–to put the poems in the fire. I didn’t want to. I swear, I didn’t want to, but she–”

His face spasmed again, and Hannah gathered him in her arms, and they wept together for a while. They wept for Annie, and for Jonathan, for their children and the poems they burned. They remained like that long after their tears dried, silent and motionless, sinking into the embrace.

A dull light crept through the curtains, and a soft rain pattered against the windows. When he began to kiss her neck, she didn’t stop him; she opened herself to him completely. Neither of them cared about the bit of blood she was shedding. Blood had bound them together, and blood had torn them apart. Let it bind them together once again.

After, quietly entangled, they listened to the rain. After a while he said, “So the poems are gone. The world will never know about Annie’s work.”

Her head rested on his shoulder; she leaned up on an elbow now to look at him. “Maybe it will.”

“What do you mean?” His finger traced the line of her eyebrows.

“There are words in my head, Jack. Words that are just beginning to float up from somewhere inside me. Maybe here, in this place, they can see the light of day.”

“Annie’s words?”

She thought for a moment. “Annie’s or Hannah’s, it doesn’t matter. It’s their time to live.”

“So…are you saying you’ll stay here? With me?”

She answered him with a kiss. She’d come here to River Valley looking for something: a thesis, a poet, a future, an escape. What she found instead was herself, and the fulfillment of a longing she never knew she had.

 

The sun was brilliant, the air mild with a light wind. He found the perfection of the day outrageous, blithely ignorant of his pain. The world should have stopped, the sun dimmed, in recognition of his loss. But they hadn’t.

He trod his usual paths along the ridge, but the familiar trees, the hulking boulders like old friends, brought him no relief.

He wandered off the path into the thick underbrush, pushed past laurel and juniper, flattened the ferns that ran profligate here, into the dim, damp, interior of the forest. The canopy here was so thickly interlaced he could escape the hurtful, bright beams of the day.

He sat on a damp rotting log and listened. Past the pain, past the echoes of the howling in his heart, there were words. Her words, hot and full of passion and anger, scalding the soul, as if her pen had been on fire as she wrote them, spilling out and burning into the paper. Her rage had shocked him, and hurt him, too. But he understood it, and there had also been love, and tenderness, and a keen desire that even now brought him to his knees.

He put his head in his hands and let the storm of her words pass through him, wreck and brand him, until they passed out of him like smoke, as when they burned in the fire the day she died.

When the smoke cleared and he raised his head, he found there were still some words left: his own. He pulled his notebook out of his sack, sharpened his pencil with his whittling knife, and began. His words were as they’d always been–quiet, steady, rhythmic and intense. He spun out a song of this glade, and the grief he could covet and nurture here, never to be disturbed or evaporated by the light of the sun, but sealed and protected by the bubble of its dark isolation.

By the time he was done it had grown so dark he could barely see the words on the paper. He closed the notebook and put it away. It would be his last poem. There was nothing left.

He reached deeper into the sack and brought out the sharp, sparkling rock he’d brought her that day, when life had been full and free of this agonizing absence. He closed his fingers around it, squeezing with the herculean strength of his grief. Pain lanced through his hand in hot currents, and he held it inside himself as long as he could, wincing. When he opened his fingers, like a flower opening, blood bloomed; the rock’s shine was dimmed with it.

“Forever, my love.” He threw the rock into the gloom; he heard its thud somewhere in the shadows before him. His hand hung beside him, unheeded, as droplets of blood fell onto the damp earth.

 

Jack opened his eyes. It took him a moment to come out of the glade and remember where he was. Who he was.

He looked over at Hannah sleeping beside him. Her face was peaceful, her dreams now free of Annie’s life. Already she was precious to him, and he marveled. Forces he didn’t understand caused them to find one another. He supposed it worked that way all the time–it seemed a miracle that anyone found each other at all, among the multitudes, in the chaos between birth and death. It gave him hope for other miracles.

He passed a hand through her hair. She opened her eyes sleepily and smiled at him. “Everything okay?”

“Perfect.” He looked beyond her at the rock on the bedside table. “But I think there’s something we should do.”

 

She led him past the tower, off the path to the glade she’d found as if by accident. She held Jack’s hand and pulled him through the foliage, though he seemed to know the way already.

A dark enclosure, shielded from the sun, always damp, soaked with sorrow. They stood in the middle of it with interlaced fingers, the ground itself palpable with grief. She let go of his hand and took the rock out of her pocket. They gazed at it together for a moment, and then she held it out to him.

He took it, hefted it in his palm, and raised his arm as if to throw. She put a hand out to stop him.

“Maybe we should bury it.”

He nodded, and they both knelt on the cool ground, strewn with a carpet of brown pine needles and oak leaves. He brushed it all away as she found a stick to dig. In a few minutes they had a hole several inches deep, and he dropped the rock inside it. She pushed the dirt back over it and patted it firmly in place. They covered it again with pine needles and leaves, solemn, wordless.

It felt like a funeral, and she supposed it was. Jonathan and Annie were gone; they had been for a long time. It was time for Jack and Hannah to bury the grief once and for all, and put them to rest.

They came out of the glade together, into the sunlight.