Old Bear’s Children

Something different this week…a fable. I hope you enjoy it.


Old Bear’s Children

Once upon a time, there was a bear cub who lived in the deep woods. He loved his family, but he especially loved his den. So cozy and warm and good-smelling. He’d nestle down against his mama’s soft belly and take long naps, and he’d drift off to sleep while Mama stroked his fur. There’s a good cub, she’d croon, and then softly sing about Old Bear, one of their ancestors, who was a great and wise creature who watched over them all. In his younger days, Old Bear was quite the thing, snatching salmon from the stream, protecting the little ones from wolves, so powerful he could have his pick of mates. He chose Sonia, the most beautiful female in the land, but most of the others didn’t know she was so smart. She wanted him for her mate, and knew the competition would be stiff, but she also knew from watching the males of her family that she had to make his choice look like his idea. So she waited until the other females were engaged with taking care of the cubs and wandered off on her own. She spied him nearby and casually went about her way of collecting berries, until he drifted over. She held her tongue while he watched her, until he said, “Why do you paw so deep into the bushes when the outside ones are easier to pick?”

“Because those are the sweetest,” she said, and offered him one, and that was that.

They lived a long and happy life together, eating sweet berries and raising their cubs and collecting wisdom they would share with each new generation. They passed on the stories of how they met and how they lived and how they fought, when it was necessary.

The little bear cub wanted a life like that, when he was grown. He wanted a wise mate to share berries and salmon and stories with, to have his own cubs with, to grow old with. But he didn’t know that any of the females would choose him. He was born with a short front right paw. Most of the other cubs made fun of him, even the girl cubs, and that hurt the most. Mama often told him that it shouldn’t matter to the ones who loved him. That even though Old Bear was strong and protective, he wasn’t the most handsome of the bears and in fact one eye was smaller than the other which tended to make him squint.

“You’re not yet full-grown,” Mama would say, and suggested that the paw might yet catch up with the rest of him. It never did. “One day you’ll find a mate just for you,” she said. But that didn’t happen yet, either.

When he was finally grown, and he saw the others of his age group choose mates, he decided he had only one choice. Reluctantly he said goodbye to his mama and papa and sought out to start his adult life somewhere new. For a while he roamed, plucking sweet berries and catching salmon. He made his own den, tried to make it as good-smelling as the one he’d left, and it came close but it was never quite the same.

One day he was out hunting the best berries and heard a rustle in the bushes behind him.

He turned.

“You’re digging deep for berries,” she said. “You must have learned the ways of Old Bear.”

He froze, the berry in his mouth mashed against his tongue. Hiding his short paw the way he always did, not meeting her eye.

“Are you hurt?” she said, gesturing at his paw with her snout.

He shook his head. Something about her manner said “trust.”

So he did. She made a noise of comfort, so like his mama’s, deep in her throat.

“I’m missing three claws on my left paw from fighting off a wolf when I was small,” she said. The next noise sounded like a short laugh. “We can be a hunting team then, me with my better right and you with your left. It would make it easier to catch salmon.”

This sounded like a good idea to him. It was hard work catching salmon alone, and it might be nice to have a friend. Then he raised his snout to look her in the eye. And froze again.

“I know.” She sighed. “I tend to squint. Mama says it means I’m a descendent of Old Bear. Although with mama stories, it’s hard to know which are actually true and which are meant for comfort.”

His heart beat a little faster. “A true descendent of Old Bear surely would have the courage to fight off a wolf when just a cub.”

She fluttered her eyes at him, and something about the squint made that look kind of pretty. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”

“I do not,” he huffed. “I—”

Then she laughed again, and extended her partially declawed paw, and they ran off to the stream.

Stories of Brooklyn in the Rain

I can tell with one sniff what kind of day it’s going to be. The apartment always smells of onions and corned beef and dill pickles, that’s a given when you grow up over the family delicatessen. Every article of clothing, every piece of typing paper smells like Brooklyn and always will, I’d imagine. But under that, the scent-fingers of wintergreen feather through. I know, lying in my bed and before I register that it’s raining that Mom has boiled up the homemade liniment that helps my zayda with his rheumatism. Always worse when it’s raining.

I get up quickly and dress. A rainy Friday means I’ll be called on to do more. More lifting, more bending, more hours on my feet. I don’t mind. One thing my father always says about being born into a family business is true—it gets into your kishkas. It’s family, and you want to do for your family.

A rainy day also means I’ll be doing more lunch deliveries, and seeing a certain young lady on my route, and I smile.

“Hey, save me some of that, zeeskeit,” I hear my father say as I enter the kitchen. Another bellwether of the weather. My father’s own aches and pains worse at the end of the day, although he’ll never admit to it. Every line etched into his face tells a story. Today I read the one about a deli owner worried that he’ll run out of all his specialties before the Sabbath.

“Don’t I always?” she says, turning back to the tiny stove in our tiny kitchen. Here, we don’t keep to the strict kosher law of not mixing meat and dairy that we do downstairs. Here, we can have milk for my father’s coffee. Here, we can cook with butter. The reasons are practical, my mother says. There’s no room for two sets of dishes, no outside eyes to tell our secrets. Only my cousin Artie knows, and he wouldn’t tell a soul.

Downstairs, the morning is busy—women wanting to do their marketing and get home, the alter cockers lingering over their tea and breakfasts, grumbling to each other that they should have gone to Katz’s, at least there they could have had a schmear. Yet, each morning they return.

My heart beats harder, it seems, with each tick of the clock leading up to lunchtime. The furrier is last on the route, owing to the geography of the Williamsburg streets and their preference for a later lunch hour for the employees. Pop won’t expect me back so soon.

I pack up the truck, the side stenciled with “Abramowitz and Son,” and start my deliveries. Everything is going my way. Traffic, parking, virtually no mix-ups, and some nice tips for coming out in the rain. I barely have time to be nervous until I check my list and see one stop left. When I park near the delivery entrance of the storied retailer that had draped Vanderbilts and Morgans and Astors with furs, I take a few deep breaths and slick a hand through my hair and dab my sweating face with a handkerchief. Then put on a smile.

Laura Zimmerman answers the door. It could be my imagination, but she’s surrounded by a halo of light. Her soft curls shine as bright as her mink-brown eyes. “Eli!” My name on her tantalizing lips is a memory that follows me into my dreams. “Are we ever so pleased to see you! We’re absolutely ravenous.”

She speaks and dresses like a cultured girl, a Fifth Avenue girl, even though she’s as Jewish as I am and her zayda came over on a boat just like mine. Well, probably not just like mine. Mine was in steerage, with his secondhand steamer trunk and ten dollars to his name—or so he says. I wipe my feet on the mat and enter, hoping no one notices my knees quaking, and set the box on the employee lunchroom table. I take a moment before turning to her. I know I should be going. Sometimes we chat, just for a little, until she touches my arm and says she doesn’t want to keep me. Artie says that’s a cultured girl’s way of telling you to scram.

But today I have something to ask her. Something I’ve been rehearsing in my head for days and haven’t yet gotten up the nerve to say.

I turn. I smile. She’s not there. Then she is. With a checkbook. I nearly forget she pays their tab on Fridays. “What is it this week?” she asks, pen poised. I see the check is already made out, signed by her father, leaving it to her to fill in the numbers. I mumble the amount.

Her hands are grace. Her curls, swept forward as she bends her head, an untouchable enchanted forest. Then the perfume hits me, something expensive. My throat is dry and the words are gone.

She tears the paper from the book, thrusts it toward me with a smile of accomplishment. “Sorry,” she says, a bit sheepish. “We have a big sale on.”

Artie would say that means leave and leave now. I clear my throat. “Okay. Thanks.” I fumble the check into my pocket with the others. Her soft mink eyes say “Is there something else I can help you with?” I ignore what Artie might say that meant.

“Do you… I mean… Maybe you’d…like to get a soda with me sometime? Go for a walk in Prospect Park? When it’s not raining, of course…”

The shift in her eyes lands in my stomach like bad corned beef. “Oh… Well, I don’t believe my father would like that. And, well, frankly, Eli, you’re a very nice boy, and it’s flattering to be thought of that way, but I don’t see that kind of future with someone who smells like pickles and pastrami.” She brightened. “But thank you for lunch. See you Monday?”

——-

Fortunately the afternoon is busy. I lift and bend and carry.

“Boychik,” my mother says, nodding me into a corner. Her eyes tell stories too. Of a mother who knows something’s wrong. She straightens my shirt collar. She smells like chicken soup. “Go up and check on your zayda, would you? He might like a little company.”

I go, glad for the reprieve, glad even to rub wintergreen into my grandfather’s aching joints. But zayda is sleeping. I watch him in slumber. Remembering his stories. Of coming to America. Of opening the delicatessen. That’s the perfume I love best. Artie might say it was fate, me and the furrier’s daughter. “You do smell like pickles and pastrami,” he’ll say. “But maybe one day you’ll find a girl who likes that.”

 

Indie Book Month — Promote Your Books

April is a busy month. It’s National Poetry Month; Autism Awareness Month, Financial Literacy Month. It’s also Indie April, and Charles French is one of many authors spreading the word on Twitter (#IndieApril) and elsewhere about supporting indie authors and their work. You might want to check out Charles’s work and those who’ve commented on his blog. Happy reading!

charles french words reading and writing

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(https://pixabay.com)

On Twitter, there is a movement called #IndieApril, so I thought it was a good idea to import to WordPress.  Independent writers are the growing force in publishing, so please take this opportunity to publicize and promote your work!

I want to offer an opportunity for all writers who follow this blog to share information on their books. It can be very difficult to generate publicity for our writing, so I thought this little effort might help. All books may be mentioned, and there is no restriction on genre. This encompasses fiction, poetry, plays, and non-fiction. If I have neglected to mention a genre, please consider it to be included.

To participate, simply give your name, your book, information about it, and where to purchase it in the comments section. Then please be willing to reblog and/or tweet this post. The more people that see it, the more publicity…

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New Zealand Mosque Attack – the murder of children

I have nothing to add here. Meeks says it so well. Namaste.

Meeka's Mind

I was horrified by the New Zealand Mosque attack yesterday. It touched my head and made me angry.

Today, the first thing I saw on Twitter was a picture of a man. He was shown from the back and in his arms hung the body of a child. A four year old.

That image touched my heart and will haunt me for the rest of my days.

I remember being a young Mum and suddenly being terrified of the world into which my baby was born. My baby is over 30 now. The child in that picture…

I’m only one person, but I have to do what I can to hammer home this simple truth:

people who spew white supremacist/nationalist poison are not exercising their right to free speech, they are pointing psychopaths at a target and inviting them to shoot.

Every single person who excuses, condones or ‘softens’ the…

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More Challenges Faced by Indie Authors

Good stuff, here…

Author Don Massenzio

ChallengesThis is the second in a series of posts centered on the challenges faced by indie authors as we try to compete in the vast ocean of competitors/cohorts that is filled with sharks and other predators. Here are more that I’ve come up with to get you thinking and to foster a discussion:

bad reputation speedometer illustration designThe Stigma of Self-Publishing

I refrain from calling what we do self-publishing. I am an independent author. My publisher is Amazon. Instead of having services provided to me by a traditional publisher, I outsource them to providers that fit within my budget and style.

I recall trying to join a local author group and being refused because I was “one of those self-publishers”. Truth be told, I had essentially published more books than the total of all of the authors in the group. Many of them were waiting for some big publisher to say yes. Of those…

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New: The Kitchen Brigade

Hi, everyone,

I’m so excited to tell you that The Kitchen Brigade, my latest novel and first dystopian story, is now live on Amazon!

Here’s the gist of it:

In the not-so-distant future, a culinary student—and daughter of the assassinated secretary of state—is forced to work in the kitchen of a Russian general whose army occupies an America torn apart by civil war. To rebel could prove deadly, but how long can she serve the men destroying her country?

If an army marches on its stomach, a cook might find a way to win the war.

Here’s what an early reader said about it:

“In The Kitchen Brigade, a powerful dystopian imagining of a post-Trump world in which Russia has overtaken America, author Laurie Boris pulls us into unexpected territory with her rich, detailed narrative of the despair, courage, and persistent creativity found amongst a band of female chefs forced to serve their captors.” — Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of The Alchemy of Noise and Hysterical Love

Here’s the universal Amazon link.

For now, The Kitchen Brigade will only be available as an e-book on Amazon. You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’ll have more updates to come about sales, events, recipes, when the paperback will be ready, how to skin and cook a woodchuck (just kidding), and all that jazz. But for now, I’m popping open an adult beverage and celebrating.

Have a great day!

Unraveling, with Gratitude

Hi, everyone,

Recently my father shared an analogy about time with respect to your years on this planet. That it’s like a ball of string. It rolls out so slowly—almost too slowly—when you’re very young and the ball is full, but faster and faster as it gets smaller. Although the events of the world this year often made time feel interminable, I looked up from the computer one day and could barely believe 2018 was almost done.

My ball of string is unraveling faster than it used to. But I’m trying to be grateful for every inch. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and food on my table and that I get to work with words and stories, a childhood dream that for a while I never thought possible.

I’m grateful for readers and writers and my entire community of book-loving people.

I hope you have a lovely holiday season and good health, happiness, and abundance in the coming year—wherever you are on your own ball of string.

Laurie

PS: I haven’t forgotten the book deals! See this page for more info…

INTERVIEW: DAVID ANTROBUS

A fascinating interview with my friend and editor, David Antrobus.

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Meet the author and much-in-demand editor, David Antrobus!

Tell us about the books you’ve written. What are the titles?

I’ve self-published two works. The first is a short account of a continent-spanning road trip I took to New York City against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks, a kind of memoir/travelogue mash-up. It has the slightly unwieldy title of Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip. The second book is an irreverent look at the publishing industry and the world of writing in general, largely from an independent perspective, titled Endless Joke.

You write a lot of short stories, and they are brilliant. What are some of the messages in these stories that you would want readers to grasp?

Oh, thank you for the kind words. I love writing short fiction. If there’s any kind of message (and I’m not sure there is), it’s that beauty can be found…

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The Council: Goodbye, Forty-one

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by current events. I just couldn’t help myself.

—————–

The loss of Forty-one had brought the council together again. First, at the cathedral, where they’d exchanged appropriate pleasantries, then later, with most of their spouses otherwise engaged, at Earl’s. It seemed befitting that Forty-three make the toast, and when they were all assembled and served, they raised their glasses toward the empty chair, followed by a few moments of silence.

Forty-four felt the weight of his absence. The loss of what he brought to the table—the wisdom, the connections. He also felt the unspoken tensions of earlier in the day. But broaching the subject so soon after the funeral…

“Every day I pray for his soul,” Thirty-nine said, with a heavy sigh.

“You’re a better man that I am,” Forty-three and a half added, then downed the rest of her scotch and ordered another.

Her husband passed her a sly look. “Now, honey, you may want to slow down on those…”

“Don’t honey me. Are you driving?”

“Well, yeah…”

“Then I’m drinking. Did you see Twitter? He wants to put us in jail and I’m the bitch because I didn’t smile at him. Lock thisup, you orange buffoon.”

“Hill, what’d I tell you about staying off those social media things? They never did no one no good…”

Forty-four cleared his throat. “Come on, folks. Time’s a wasting and we need a new plan of attack.”

“He’s right,” Forty-three said. “Got us a serious problem here and I don’t feel right as it is leaving Laura and the girls too long tonight.”

“Then we’ll make it quick,” Forty-four said. “So here’s where we stand. Winning back the House might give us some checks on this guy, but I won’t trust that until I see it. Contacting Putin again is off the table. He’s achieved his objectives and won’t help us. Unless we can deliver Lindsey Graham in a dog harness, but I doubt he’s gonna fall for that trick twice…”

“I’ll do it.” Everyone turned to the breathy voice with the Georgia accent.

“Jimmy…” Forty-three and a half laid a hand on his forearm.

“No, please. I sat in that cathedral today hearing about doing good for the world. Yes, we certainly had our disagreements when it came to governing, but I believe we’re here to help each other and to do God’s work. I know my time is next and I want to make what little I have left count for something.”

Forty-three sat taller. “Can’t let you do that, Thirty-nine. Wouldn’t be prudent to let that be your legacy.”

Forty-four narrowed his eyes. Was it his imagination, or was the Texan across the table starting to sound like his father?

“I got an idea,” Forty-three said. “Lemme give Dick Cheney a call. See if he’s up for a little quail hunting.”

The Children: Flash Fiction

Lila glared at the guard. A wall of a man, chest puffed in his sense of duty, thumbs hooked into his belt like a sheriff in an old Western. But she was armed too—with a court order and the adrenaline thrill of the arguments she’d laid down in order to obtain it. Now they could no longer keep her out. God knows they’d tried. At three different security checkpoints, she had to mention her name, her credentials, show the paperwork, endure a pat-down and a search of her briefcase.

“No pictures,” he said finally, by way of granting her permission to enter the facility.

She’d been told what to expect. Of course, no pictures. The identities of the children would be protected. She hated when the media splashed up images of suffering children; yes, it might squeeze out some tears and celebrity outrage, but it was cruel and intrusive and she would not participate in that heartbreaking manipulation.

She would not do that to these children. Many years ago, she’d been one of them. She and her brother.

Her heels echoed on the concrete floor as she walked down the corridor, escorted by a different guard. She snatched glances at him. Wondering how he could be a party to separating children from their deported parents. Wondering how it could have been done to her own family. Most likely, he would say he was only following the law or that he was just doing his job. How many horrors has the world endured over people just following orders? Again she saw those stark, heart-wrenching images from the concentration camps that they were shown in school. Men little more than skeletons in striped uniforms. The piles of bodies. Again she saw her brother in the detention camp. Saw him broken and bruised and so, so small. Dios mio, if any of these children have been harmed…

They turned a corner and she was close enough to hear the crying. Her throat tightened and she bit the inside of her lip. She could do this. She’d done this many times, taken children out of bad environments. Only never on so grand a scale.

What the guards hadn’t seen on her phone were all the contacts. All the families who wanted to foster children; some able to take three, four, five, six. What they hadn’t seen in her briefcase was another court order. This one had been more difficult to obtain. It would cost her dearly to pull that trigger; the man she’d dealt with said that for every favor his boss granted, he wanted triple in return. But for the children, it was worth it.

The guard stopped at the chain link gate. She stared at it, then at him. “Like dogs. You cage them like dogs.”

His unkempt eyebrows pushed together; the expression one beat from saying he was just doing his job. She didn’t want to hear it. Instead she focused on a small girl staring at her with huge, red-rimmed eyes. Lila crouched down and smiled at her, hooking an index finger through the gate.

“Hola, pequeño. ¿Cuál es su nombre?”

For a long moment, the girl stared. Her lower lip trembled. She couldn’t have been more than five. An older boy, maybe eight or nine, stepped close to the girl, a protective hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay,” Lila said, continuing in Spanish. “I’m just here to make sure you’re all right.”

He didn’t answer. But nothing was all right about this. They were crowded in like animals. Their beds were paper-thin space blankets on the concrete floor. God knows where their parents were. But if Lila’s plan worked, she would know where these children were, would know that they were safe. She and her colleagues would know it. And, eventually, their parents. She reached into her purse and pushed a button on the phone, alerting her team to get into position.

Then she stood and faced the guard. “I am authorized to take these children into protective custody.” Then, heart in her throat, she shoved the second court order at him. As he read, one of those unkempt eyebrows rose, along with a corner of his mouth.

“Are you for real, lady? The president of the United States. How do I know you didn’t forge this signature?”

She yanked out her phone. “How do you know that calling his office right now and asking that question won’t get you fired?”

He looked at the paperwork again. “I gotta check this out,” he said, and disappeared down the hall.

She’d already made friends with two of the children by the time he returned. His expression a blend of irritation and disbelief. A half hour later, a convoy of minivans filled with children was heading toward their rendezvous, where the foster parents had been told to meet them.

She drove the first one. Smiling to herself in her triumph. Yes, it would cost her. She’d have to join the president’s legal team for a few months, but it would be worth it. In fact, she chose to look at the assignment as a challenge. If she could survive that, she could do anything.