This week's title is Nothing Ever Ends. The final entry time this week is 11pm (UK time) 25th August 2017. Predicted prize fund is £50!
Guest judge David Zetland returns to see who has adapted and who has died: read about the results here...
18th August 2017
Several examples of an outside group looking back at the follies of man (the badgers in 2757 and grandson in 2754) were among this week’s stories. Overall, the entries varied in their approach to the prompt -- "Adapt or Die" -- but I was looking for variation in style and tone as a means of giving readers different insights on a simple phrase.
Two poems compared the adaption of one species adaption to the loss of another (2756) or fossil dinosaurs watching humans come their way (2750). I enjoyed the grand sweep of collapsing empires (2747) and the quiet struggle of a couple facing their own grey future (2753), but these stories -- as the others before mentioned -- were not as strong on the prompt as the three that I choose. (That said, I would like to invite them to my project -- see below.)
For adapt or die, I am looking for an emphasis on the cost of adapting, not in the (im)possibility of doing that, and the stories that brought this tension out best (to me) were the tale of recovering from an abusive relationship (2748) and a dialogue with an "unknown man" who takes the sinner on a walk into the light (2751). These evoked the will to carry forward and need to face the future, respectively, in a lovely way.
As the winner, I choose the story that showed a will to carry forward against loss and hopelessness. Elaine's pub (2749), set amidst a rising sea of abandoned villages, has just the right element of "muddling through," and that's why I gave it first prize.
I did not mention three other entries that were fun to read, but too far from my goal of bringing different perspectives to living in a world of climate change. Last year, I was pleased to receive many entries under the prompt Life Plus 2 Meters and publish many of them in Volume 1 of a book by the same name (you can download it for free here).
For this year -- and this prompt -- I am hoping that the authors whose entries I have mentioned by number will consider having their stories republished on the Life plus 2 meters website -- and almost certainly in Volume 2 of the Life Plus 2 Meters anthology.
The purpose of this project -- and the books that we're publishing -- is to collect many diverse perspectives on (non)adaptation as a means of helping people think about life in a climate-changed world. Although some of the entries I am inviting to this project are not directly focussed on climate change, I think that all of them can give readers a "feeling" for the discomfort, friction and regret that many of us will feel if -- or, rather when -- "our familiar environment" is replaced by a less comfortable, unfamiliar one. These stories might help people adapt more easily to that future.
So I thank all the writers and Hour of Writes for putting together yet another suite of really enjoyable writing.
About the Judge
David Zetland, PhD
Assistant professor of economics
Leiden University College
Low Cut Blouses and Songs about Sex
She wanted back in. After fifteen months on her own, needing to “follow my own mojo”, she walked through the door. I know my eyes were wide, the surprise eating my face like all eight tentacles of an octopus. I didn’t have to look at Hot Rod to know his eyes were filled with anger. You only got once chance with him, and Cherry took a shit on hers. Little D would have rolled out a red carpet if we had one. Lust will make you stupid even quicker than love.
None of us spoke for way too long. The tension in the room stretched until it had spun all four of us in a web. Cherry’s opening words still hung in the air, slapping me with thin, sharp fingers.
“Are you still looking for a singer? I’d like to audition.”
Hot Rod was sucking air in through gritted teeth while Little D melted in his chair, unable to speak or likely even think. I turned so I was facing her full-on. For some reason, I was surprised she looked the same as the day she walked out on us. Thigh-high boots, mini-skirt, loose-hanging blouse, and denim jacket, all in black, playing off her pale skin and messy red hair.
“Yeah,” I mumbled through a dry mouth. “We could use a singer.”
“We don’t need her,” Hot Rod spit out.
“I do,” Little D said louder than he meant to. When we all turned to look at him, he walked to the corner of the room like a child in a timeout.
“We don’t need her,” Hot Rod repeated.
Cherry walked farther into the cramped garage we used as a rehearsal space. “I know you’re all mad at me,” she started.
“I’m not,” Little D said from the corner.
“Shut up, D!” Hot Rod yelled. He leaned into me. “We’re doing fine without her.”
“Are you?” Cherry asked.
“Tell her,” Hot Rod said before sitting on the stool behind his drum kit.
Cherry’s eyes turned to me. Why was I congealing into oatmeal inside? I was furious with her when she left the band to perform solo. All the momentum we had had evaporated overnight, but when she stared at me, I became a puddle on the floor. Maybe, I thought, I should join Little D in the corner.
“It’s been better recently,” I finally said. “We got our weekly gig back at the Rock All Night club downtown.”
“Just like before,” Hot Rod interjected.
“Half the money,” Little D muttered.
“Shut your pie hole.”
The corner of Cherry’s mouth curled up, and she shook her head while still looking at me. Some things never change, she was saying without opening her mouth.
“You said you got the gig back,” Cherry said.
“Yeah,” I began. “We lost it right after you left. Mr. Dibbs said no one wanted to hear us play without you singing.”
“That’s bullshit,” Cherry responded.
“Doesn’t matter what it was, we got fired.”
“But you got back in?”
“With Little D’s sister singing.”
“Charlotte? I didn’t even know she could sing.”
“Like an angel,” Hot Rod said, followed by a rim shot on the drums.
“Yeah, well, not quite an angel,” I laughed. “But good enough to get us the gig back.”
“At half the money,” Little D reminded us again.
“At half the money,” I agreed.
Cherry walked over to the microphone and caressed the stand with her fingers. “So, why did you advertise for a singer on Music Finder?”
“Charlotte’s going to college. Out of state. If we want to keep the regular club gig, we need a female singer.
“We need you,” Little D said, turning to face Cherry for the first time.
“NO, we don’t!” Hot Rod shouted, crashing his cymbals.
“That’s one for and one against,” Cherry said. She took the microphone off the stand, held it in front of her with both hands. Looking me in the eyes, she spoke into it. “What do you say?”
I had been in love with her once when we were seniors, but that worked out like most high school romances. We were both immature. I had a problem with wanting to be in charge all the time, and she liked to flirt with other guys. Our relationship for the last seven years had been equal parts attraction, distrust, ambition, and forgiveness. The trouble was that I agreed with both of my band mates. We did need her, and we didn’t. Whatever I decided, there was a question I needed answered first.
“Why did you leave?”
Cherry’s boots clicked on the cement floor as she slowly walked in a haphazard circle, rolling the microphone between her hands.
“The first night we played the Rock All Night club, after we finished, I was coming out of the ladies’ room. I jumped back when I saw Mr. Dibbs, all three hundred plus pounds of him, standing there waiting for me. He proceeded to tell me that he liked my voice, but what he liked more were my tits.”
Cherry paused and let the last word reverberate through the room from the speakers.
“He told me our band was pretty good, but the real reason he had given us the job was so he could watch me jiggle while I jumped around on stage.”
“Bullshit,” Hot Rod said.
Cherry smiled. “Oh, Hot Rod. Simple, black or white Hot Rod. You just told me you got the job back because Charlotte sang for you and now to keep it you need another female singer. Mr. Dibbs is a dirty old man.”
“Did he . . . touch you?” Little D asked.
“No. He said he had “learned his lesson with that shit.” Never found out exactly what happened, but now he just wanted to watch.”
“Why did you leave?” I asked quietly.
“This is who I am when I sing with you guys.” Cherry spun around like a fashion model. “And don’t get me wrong, I love it, and I know the guys are watching me. But I needed to know if they really wanted to hear me sing, too. When I performed on my own, I wasn’t Cherry. I was Paulette Spencer from Lancaster Pennsylvania. I didn’t dress like this, and I didn’t do the hard music we did. I had to know if Paulette was good enough. Or if it was just Cherry.”
“What did you find out?”
“Paulette can sing. She can write songs. She can bring two hundred people into a club to make them dance and cheer.”
“Why is she back here then?” Little D asked.
“This is home. I missed our music, our show, our fans. I missed all of you, even the nutsack behind the drum kit.”
A soft, slow rim shot left Hot Rod’s sticks. I looked at him for affirmation. He rolled his eyes and then looked away but not before nodding his head. I turned back to Cherry.
“Do you really want to re-join Rat City?”
“I have a closet full of low cut blouses and a dozen new songs about sex,” Cherry said.
- KMaidmarion: Thanks Safemouse. I didn't realise.
- safemouse: Results can take 2 or 3 months to be posted sometimes.
- KMaidmarion: Have the results of the Time and Space and Feel the Fear been announced. If so, I can't seem to find them. x
- safemouse: You're welcome, K Maid Marion.
- KMaidmarion: Thanks for your response Safemouse
Ultimately, I received a permanent victim’s protective order and a divorce. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Despite the fact that I tried to move on with life, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I had to adapt to a normal life…otherwise, I would die. Maybe I wouldn’t die by my own hands, but I’d be dead inside.
Therapy. Court. More therapy. Starting a business. Dealing with threats. Dealing with violations of the protective order. Living in fear. Starting a healthy relationship. I had to learn to adapt or I would die.
Therapy taught me how to adapt to life and deal with C-PTSD in healthy ways that didn’t involve self-harm.
Starting a business enabled me to support myself since he did whatever he could to get me fired when I taught and worked in law firms (it is legal in most states for domestic violence survivors to be fired because of their involvement as a victim or survivor if they have to miss work or even if the other party constantly harasses them on the job).
Getting the right legal support was key to the court system for the VPO and for the divorce.
Eventually, I remarried. I adapted to a good life. Do I still look over my shoulder? Yes. Do I still have C-PTSD? Yes. Will I let anything kill the good life I’ve created? No. I’ve learned how to adapt.
Adaptation is key to survival. That includes recovery from trauma. In order to adapt, we undergo a daily process. Each day that I wake up, I have an active decision to make. Some days that decision is harder to make than others. And that decision is how I want to live during the day. Sometimes, I have to adapt moment by moment. Yet, it continues and will always continue to be an active decision.
I made my decision to survive...to adapt. It's not an easy road, but it sure beats dying. It sure beats letting anyone else control my life.
Last Week's Winner!
Winning entry by jaguar
I frowned. It had taken me days to source strawberry-pink china beer mugs and George’s revolutionary zeal was putting them at risk already. He was talking nonsense anyway. ‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives. They had nice long retirements. We’re the ones who have to work until we’re seventy-five. ‘
George tutted at me. ‘At least your folks left you something.’ He gestured at the Victorian bar. ‘You’ve got a pub on a hill with a large garden. You’ve got a job for life now there are so few pubs left and no more licences. You’re sitting pretty, you are.’
‘Look around you, George. I’ve got an empty pub it took a small fortune to make habitable. I’m only three miles from the sea and it’s getting closer by the hour. The Moon Under Water’s not the only water-logged thing. The village where my customers used to live is submerged. There’s no one left round here. The whole thing is doomed.’
He bent his head to one side and his huge brown eyes reminded me of my childhood Labrador, who used to sit exactly where George was now. ‘So why did you do it Elaine? Why have you given up a city career to come to the back of beyond. What’s all this fantasy George Orwell pub stuff? No music, no live sports, liver-sausage sandwiches for god’s sake. ‘
‘It’s not the back of beyond. We’re only thirty-five miles from London. We’re in the London area.’
‘I know that was one of Orwell’s bizarre criteria but you’ve stretched it a bit too far. We’re not in the London area. We’re not even in the Southend area now it’s gone under. It may have escaped your notice but there’s no large town left here now Leigh’s drowned too.’
The expression on George’s face when he knows he’s right is just so unattractive. He must know I’m worried I’ve made a terrible choice. Why is he rubbing it in? I want him gone. I had imagined us getting stuck in together, making a little utopia on what’s now the end of the earth, building something solid together. Sadly what George is good at is picking holes in what’s been done rather than doing anything himself. What George is good at is making himself feel better by trashing me.
‘Fine.’ I pick his jug up and pour it down the sink behind the bar. It’s a waste but such a little thing in comparison with a desolated country, a planet with a precarious future. ‘I think you should go back to London.’
‘Fine.’ He slides off the bar stool so quickly I know that was what he hoped I’d say. He’s been prodding me to push him away. Five minutes later he’s back downstairs with his bags. ‘Could you give me a lift to the station?’
I hesitate. It’s lunch-time there could be customers. A guy came through yesterday. He seemed to like it here. I can’t really leave the pub but I know it isn’t safe to be out there on your own. Certainly not on foot when you can’t get away from whatever’s roaming near you. Can I really care so little for someone I’ve spent five years with? ‘OK but let’s be quick.’ I find an old chalkboard and write back in twenty minutes before propping it against the door.
George looks relieved. We get in the van in silence but he’s watching me as I drive. ‘Tell me why you really came here, Elaine.’
It can’t hurt now. I don’t have to protect myself against his scorn anymore. ‘I thought I could save a bit of the old world, you know, the one where people looked out for each other. I mean I know any property near water is a nightmare now but I can’t shake off how looking at water makes me feel better.’
He snorts and shakes his head. ‘And the Moon Under Water was your childhood home.’
I nod. ‘Yes but I don’t have a romantic notion of it. I know only too well how hard it was running a pub even back when they were profitable. You had to put up with other people’s vices as much as their warmth. Mum and Dad ran it like a club, they had their rules and it didn’t matter what you did or were outside. You stuck to the rules you were part of the place.’
‘Vices yes. Remember the smoking? But why all this George Orwell stuff?’
‘The Moon Under Water was his vision of the perfect pub. Old-fashioned yes but there was something about his set of rules made me feel I could create that kind of place. I had this silly idea that people would come on daytrips for the charm of it.’
‘But we only get five litres of petrol a week. It’s not like the blokes could come on their own now it’s one car between two families.’
That rule is very precious to George. His job is coordinating the car shares. So many people had to be rehomed that he was forever recalculating who could be matched. He was right though, I hadn’t factored that in. I was running at a breath-taking loss forever coming up with silly promotions that were as much good as Canute raving at the tide. The freezer was packed with the meals I’d made but hadn’t sold.
I stop the car in the station car park. It’s almost empty. ‘Bye then. I guess you won't be coming down for the weekend again’ I get out of the car as he does and hold out my hand. He clutches me to him, his bag swinging into my leg. We stand there, wavering in each other’s arms. I’m tempted to hold on, to undo the last hour, maybe even the last six months. He kisses the top of my head and lets me go.
‘Good luck to you Elaine. You're an idiot but I admire you, I really do. I just can’t make myself believe it’s going to be OK.’
It isn’t going to be OK. I know that. I drive back to the pub trying to accept that nothing I do – wasting beer or trying to make a sanctuary – will make the slightest difference. There’s something bigger than us we’ve tormented too long. Now it wants to get rid of us irritants, it wants its world back.
I’m going to keep on fighting back, plant vegetables and get chickens. I can't go back to my old lifestyle, head buried in the sand of submerged beaches. I pull into the stupidly large car park scattering a group of people huddled around the door. I tense until I recognise my only customer yesterday.
‘Are you open? Are you doing food? I brought my friends.’
Last known recording of Argi Mikolas Munoz (and unknown male); Beit Jamal Salesian Monastery; Beit Shemesh, Israel. Translated from the Basque(Upper Navarrese) By Fr. Ibon Garcia.
UM: What have you done with the life I have given you?
AMM: I have served.
UM: No, you are serving now - and it is too late.
AMM: I have always kept the faith; I have fought and bled for my country.
UM: Stone and earth are ambivalent my son - what faith?
AMM: That the Lord is my saviour and that...
UM: Come now Argi. Even now you would try to lie - and I am here watching you. Can you see the softening of the walls and the opening of the ceiling?
AMM: God help me, I am afraid.
UM: That's what Maria Dolores would have said - had she had time. You knew her too didn't you Argi?
AMM: I knew her.
UM: Did you know her little child?
AMM: I never met the child, I am sorry, I never wanted any of it to happen, I...
UM: But you didn't do anything to stop it, did you?
AMM: It was not my decision, I could do nothing.
UM: And if I was to say the same to you now my son; how would that be?
AMM: I will do anything, anything!
UM: Oh! They say I will, I would, I wish, I pray. They never say I have, I made, I tried, I hoped. They seek benevolence when all they have offered is ruthlessness; they plead for mercy though they have never bestowed it.
AMM: Surely it is never too late?
UM: Ah, surely it is never too early? You know that place your wife came from? Did you know that they've twinned it with Kfar Vradim? I had a chuckle at that one. It's yet another example of irony. You were supposed to learn from irony Argi. All of you are supposed to learn from it. Still, it doesn't matter much now.
AMM: Is there anything I can do?
UM: Once - there was a lot you could have done, but you played with fire didn't you? You knew that you shouldn't have - but you still did. What can I do when I'm faced with that?
AMM: I thought that if I did certain...things.. then my people would gain their freedom and...
UM: Those are the thought processes of a child; besides, they are not your people - they are mine. Freedom does not exist. There is only responsibility: to yourself; to others; to me. Those duties are the essence of self-emancipation. Have you ever seen those dogs in the country? You know - the ones that chase your motor vehicles. They wait, and wait, in anticipation - and then they charge out like lions protecting the pride - for naught. It always amuses me, and it always makes me a little sad; but bravery and intelligence have seldom been bedfellows.
AMM: So it is over then?
UM: Well, it is - and it isn't. Answers are never neat. Answers only beget further questions. So I ask you again - what have you done with the life I have given you?
AMM: I do not know what you want me to say.
UM: That is correct; but also incorrect. Do you know what these men do?
AMM: What men?
UM: These men here. The men who took you in, who fed you, gave you a bed, treated you with kindness through the worst of your illness. These men.
AMM: They are monks.
UM: They try to take care of children. They try to help the homeless ones - the little unfortunates.
AMM: And I have heard the horror stories.
UM: I'll just bet you have. I'll say this for you Argi - you've got balls. My point is that you are a little child, even though you must be seventy now. Your mind is infantile. These men looked after you like a child. And yet here you are Argi: an old man in the dark eh?
AMM: Why have you come?
UM: I have come to show compassion; to practice what I have preached. I have come before Fr. Kendrick returns. What do you see now?
AMM: The dawn, I think.
UM: Yes, well - that will suffice. I want you to walk out over this meadow. I want you to move towards the rising sun. But you must not falter, this light is not as forgiving as I. You must adapt to it.
AMM: But it is so very far - so very far. I see Castrillo on the plain and Miriam's house. I loved her you know. We got wed in, oh - I can't remember it now. They had that old dog, the one with the torn ear...
AMM: Yes - that was him, Zirta. So long ago. So long. Wait, oh Lord - I can smell the what do you call 'ems...?
UM: The red carnations?
AMM: Yes, yes, oh yes....
UM: Do not weep. Keep walking. Nice and steady; that's it.
AMM: I am so very sorry for all of it. I am so sorry. I put a frog in the milk pail and made Ines cry.
UM: Take my hand now Argi. Do not be afraid.
AMM: What is it all? What is it?
UM: Adaptation Argi; little more than that.
As per instructions, translation of final tape recording. Cassette withheld from authorities and in my possession. Pick-up at your convenience.