Seeking Understanding

It is our duty. Our duty to understand, at every level. Religion is not the enemy of science. in fact they compliment each other. there is a reason monks used to often be scientists, and writers, and philosophers, which are all really the same thing: the celebration of creation and the human experience. it is the opening of the proverbial nested boxes. We as humans will always have limitations in our perception and understanding. But we are always pushing those limits further and understanding more and going above and beyond in an ever-renewing sea of relative transcendence. That is what the angels truly are: the ideal of the human-like consciousness that understands it all. Only G-d has the power to control it yet the angels can understand it.

And shame on those who refuse to learn. Shame on those who have found contentment in their knowledge. Blessed is the mind that seeks always to understand more. We owe it to each other to uplift the ignorance in each other’s minds. All of us are ignorant. Not in level but in subject–each human, each person, indeed even each consciousness experiences deeply and feels genuinely. The full realm of truth experienced even in one day can never be fully expressed, let alone understood.

However, if we preserve the instinctive seeking of knowledge with which every child is born, we become conscious Truth-Seekers, and we keep an open mind. Open your mind to things you love, to things you hate, to things you enjoy, to things you fear. The positive and the negative are true. Once I learn enough about the way the world is put together, and how it moves, I’ll figure out where it’s going, and how I want to help.

We all seek a mission in life. Some of us have found one, some of us have found several at once, some of us are still searching. Maybe the most fulfilling way is to find one after another once they are complete. Every mission should have a basis in truth. My first was to complete my education. Now I want to buy a house and start a family. But what else?

What is your mission? Still searching?

Wild Corner

When we buy a house, I am pretty sure I’ll be able to convince my fiancé to let me have a wild corner as part of our yard.

I mean a fenced-in place where we don’t do any landscaping at all, just letting the land go back to what it was before human meddling. I think it would be fascinating to watch as the months and years went on. It would be a model for how the whole yard–the whole neighborhood, probably–would go wild if left alone. I’m not talking about making habitats for creatures to come and stay. I’m not trying to make a zoo. And I’m not a bird; I shouldn’t be making a bird house. Birds are perfectly capable of making their own houses and, if they like my wild corner, they’ll build just fine by themselves there.

Why would I even want this ever? Besides just being an awesome and beautiful “what would happen if…” experiment, I really enjoy natural landscapes and I really hate doing (what I consider to be pointless) yardwork. So, if I just leave my land alone, it will go back to being beautiful all by itself , and I won’t ever have to mow the lawn or trim the bushes or pull the weeds or rake the leaves or whatever.

I do still want a garden. Probably three gardens. I just don’t like lawns. A boring square of high-maintenance grass that burns in the sun and grows high in the summer and gets stepped on and blah blah blah. Grass is a stupid ground covering, IMHO, in places, like the Northeast where I live, where the land is naturally forest, not grassland. If I want grass, I’ll go west.

How cool would it be to have your own little forest to explore in your backyard? Think of all the animals that would come to live there as the years went on. You could see tons of song birds, woodpeckers, small mammals, maybe even an owl. Not to mention butterflies and fireflies in the summer. If time goes on long enough you could get visits from foxes and deer.

I’m a big believer in creating a safe and controlled environment for humans, and leaving the wild environments wild. My ideal city is an insulated dome with UV protection, wind protection, earthquake protection, etc. Any natural species we find friendly (most trees, plenty of flowers, songbirds–basically the nice stuff you’d find in a city park) would be all over the place so you can get as much nature as possible. Plus people could have gardens, etc.

But outside the dome, I’d let the land be. Wild forest, wild deer, wolves, bears, cougars, fish, everything–everything that was here before we chased it out, let it come back to its homeland.

And you’d need a culture that actually wanted to leave the dome and go be in the wild sometimes. The walls of the dome shouldn’t be a prison. That would be stupid. They should be just like the walls of your house: strong enough to keep the heat in and the rain out, but full of doors and windows.

But what of the suburbs, they cry? What of overcrowding the cities?

First off, we are going to have to get smarter about our population growth, and there is no way to do that until we have conquered disease, especially contagious disease. When people can all be relatively sure that their children will all grow up to have grandchildren of their own, and they start to feel the pressure of overcrowding the planet, I think the impulse to have as many kids as humanly possible will start to morph into the impulse to raise existing kids as well as possible.

As for the suburbs, IMHO they can exist inside the dome. There is no need to crunch people into tiny spaces with no green. There may be some who prefer it, but many will not, so a standard city dwelling is going to end up with its own piece of green.

Rooftop gardens will be great for this.

Why don’t I believe in Man’s Manifest Destiny to Tame the Earth to His Will? Because it’s misled and counterproductive. You can “rule” over something–if you really feel that burning need to–without touching it. You don’t have to mess with the perfection Nature spent millions of years refining in order to “own” land. It’s like a grab-happy child who wants to draw all over the walls because they think it looks cool like that. Mama Nature wants to take the crayon out of your little hand and say, “Stop it!”

I think in a few hundred years that’s what our cities are going to look like anyway. The question is if the land outside of the bubble is going to be a nasty, stinking, smoking sludge pile or if it’s going to be healthy, green, prosperous land.

Which kind of brings me back to my hypothetical wild corner in my (hopefully) near-future backyard. I wanna do it.

As for my gardens, at least three. Next post about that.

Leave a comment on your vision of the future.

“The Scottish Play”, A creative piece in the style of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Peer Reviewed: Ben Brooks, Senior Writer in Residence, Emerson College, Greater Boston

Callie Harrison was relieved that Madeleine was playing Lady Macbeth tonight, even if she did hate her guts. Madeleine generally was insufferable, and not even because she had a diva attitude. Oh, no. It was that Madeleine’s questions took, on average, thirty-two minutes of rehearsal time every day—Cal had taken to timing her, and had often considered formally recording Madeleine Time on the rehearsal reports she, as stage manager, would email to the director and the technical director every night. A four-hour rehearsal would be interrupted every ten minutes or so—not including the fifteen-minute break that Cal liked to pare down to thirteen minutes, since the actors would take one minute going to break and one minute coming back—and Madeleine would want to know some intimate detail of the inner workings of the mind of the Lady of the play, and Greg would have to spend one minute and fifteen seconds working out how the Lady was feeling in that moment. Of course it was the director’s job to aid the actors in enhancing their portrayal of the characters, but honestly, Cal sometimes wanted to grab the pig irons off of the fly system and hurl them at both of their heads.

Not that accidents weren’t happening on their own, without Cal’s help.

In addition to the eighteen scenes of blocking, break times, schedules, attendance sheets, contact sheets, rehearsal reports, one-hundred and fifty-six light cues, twenty-two sound cues, dozens of entrances and exits, prop list, costume list, costume change list, production notes, dramaturgy report, two full scripts, instructions for the fog machine, hazardous chemical analyses for the paint, varnish, bleach, and other things in the paint closet, eight sheets of college-ruled loose-leaf paper, one red pen, one black pen, one regular pencil and two mechanical pencils, now Cal had had to add to her binder a list of things that needed to be fixed as a result of all of the accidents.

The biggest one was the flood. Whenever anyone thinks about disaster in a theatre they always think of fire. Well, its opposite was disastrous too. Sixteen costumes, eleven props, two flashlights, a ridiculous amount of the actors’ makeup, one power drill, one table, thirteen yards of twine, two black curtains, nine pairs of shoes, two poster-board size schedules, a stack of lumber, the water cooler, and a mop had all been completely destroyed, with only four weeks and three days before opening night.

There had been an uproar. As the liaison between the technical and acting sides of the theatre, Cal had been called back and forth to every single person imaginable. She’d finally told all of the actors just to find her assistant stage manager with any issues they were having because Greg and Victor, the technical director, had her running from the stage to backstage at least twenty-four times. Cal was just glad that all of the lighting instruments and the sound equipment had made it, being high up in the stage manager’s booth, up in the catwalks behind all of the seats where she could see everything and everyone.

“Cal.” Sean was really a fantastic assistant stage manager, but sometimes he just had really terrible timing.

“What, Sean?” Cal didn’t stop scribbling notes on what Greg had told her concerning the changes he was going to have done to the new replacement swords, but she cocked an ear to him.

“Madeleine—”

“No.”

“But Cal, she—”

No.

Sean sighed, rolling his eyes and stamping his boot on the hollow stage. The noise made Cal look up in surprise, mid-scribble. “She can’t find her script,” he said flatly, his tilted head and downturned mouth more an invitation to commiserate than frustration with Cal’s shut-downs.

Cal groaned. “Fine, I’ll just add it to the list and see if one of Macduff’s soldiers has a clean enough copy for me to photocopy at some point. You’d think that eight weeks into a production that she’d be off book already—”

Sean shook his head, dark bangs swaying across his forehead. “It had all of her notes in it. You know. How to scream. How much crazy per scene. When to blink, for god’s sake.”

Cal looked at him blankly, then her eyes started to widen, her head finally dropping forward in defeat when she heard the first rumblings of the approaching panicstorm coming from the women’s dressing room.

“But what am I supposed to do?” came the wail, one that wouldn’t have sounded out of place as she hurled herself off of a Scottish tower and plummeted towards a barren moor.

Cal’s shoulders started to shake with laughter despite herself, and even with her head still down she could hear Sean covering his snickers with his hand.

“Two-hundred and sixty-five lines!” Madeleine’s dirty blonde hair whipped like a flag behind her as she burst onto the stage from the right wing. “Two-hundred and sixty-five lines with no emotion!”

Greg stood in the front row of the house, looking reluctantly impressed with the freak out his Lady was having. If she could bring this fervor to “Out damned spot,” then they would pack the house every night of the run. “Maddie, I don’t see why you can’t bring emotion to your performance without the notes. You’re doing a fine job right now.”

“It’s all in the details,” she protested. “The details are everything. Every line has a different shade of feeling. And I was close to finishing each one!”

“But—”

She straightened abruptly, hands rigidly at her sides and glare on one of the fourteen taped spike marks on the stage that showed the stage hands where to place the furniture in the dark. “No. I can’t do this.” And she fled back stage right.

“Maddie!”

“I could do it, Greg,” came a level voice from the left wing. All eyes swiveled to see Andrea, also known as Lady Macduff and owner of forty-one lines in the show, lingering behind the black curtain shielding the wing from the house’s view. “After working with this show for eight weeks I know all of her lines anyway.” She stepped downstage center and looked down at Greg, her already impressive height clearly making the short man feel shorter.

He looked at Cal, whose stage manager senses were tingling, waiting to document any change or even a suggestion, ready to set the proper wheels in motion to turn a minor character into a star. Andrea was quiet, watchful, and only needed to be told something once. She kept her things in order, was always on time. Never brought sloppy food like pizza or Chinese food into the theatre. Never screamed.

And they needed a Lady Macbeth who understood ambition.

“Well,” Greg hemmed. “I’ll have to talk to Maddie to see if she really doesn’t feel she can do it…”

“Evidently she can’t remember how she’s supposed to feel unless it’s written down for her,” Andrea said coolly. She started for the right wing, toward the women’s dressing room. “Just let me know.”

As the door to the dressing room hallway shut behind her Greg groaned and slumped into a seat. “Cal…”

“Yeah, I know, Greg. Sean, a chai tea latte, please.”

“You’re lucky that there’s actually a reason I should be getting that instead of you,” Sean grumbled as he left the theatre through the vom. Over the eight weeks they’d been working, Cal had only had to fetch three lattes. All forty-four of the others had been delegated to either Sean or, if she could grab one, one of the stage hands. Honestly, managing twenty-two actors, six stage hands, one costume director and her two assistants, one technical director and one ASM meant that leaving for nine minutes to get coffee was basically impossible.

*~*~*

“You’re convincing your husband to murder someone, Andrea,” Greg said, leaning forward in his seat in the second row. “We should be thinking about bloody, violent death, not regal royalty.”

“Lady Macbeth is regal,” Andrea argued from her place upstage. “She wants nothing more than to be queen.”

“Yes, but she has to kill someone to get it. Make us think of murder.”

Cal grit her teeth and said nothing, her rehearsal script open to the proper page in case anyone forgot their lines while they were trying to get emotional. Clearly Andrea was not having that problem. Her motions, her glances, her delivery of lines, her walks to and fro on the stage, her engagement with the other characters, her wielding of props, whether daggers or candlesticks or nightgowns, were…predictable. Even though Cal had all of the blocking in front of her in the script, Madeleine always had flowed organically from one spot to another. With Andrea, Cal could predict how the blocking was going to be altered. It was sad.

Madeleine sat next to Sean two seats away from Cal, sucking morosely on the straw of a juice box and pretending not to watch Andrea.

“Have you had enough yet?” Cal whispered to her as Andrea delivered her lines in the same haughty way for the third time.

Madeleine’s gray eyes gleamed over her juice box, riveted to Andrea’s dark hair and gesticulating hands. “Yeah.”

*~*~*

One; two; why, then ’tis time to do’t.

“Light cue one-twenty, stand by,” Cal whispered over her headset, receiving the even softer confirmation, “Lights,” from the operator at the other end of the booth.

Hell is murky,” Madeleine murmured under the spotlight on the stage. She and Cal had the house breathless.

Twelve weeks, six hours, twenty-two actors, six stage hands, one costume director and her two assistants, one technical director, one assistant stage manager, one-hundred and fifty-six light cues, twenty-two sound cues, a thousand hearts beating loudly in the packed house along with the two-hundred and fifty-six lines of a madwoman.

Here’s the smell of blood still,” the Lady wailed from center stage.

“Light cue one-twenty, go,” Cal breathed, and a reddish tint bathed the stage in a bloody glow.

To bed, to bed: there’s knocking at the gate.

“Blackout, stand by.” Cal’s eyes were pinned on the desperate queen, knowing it was the long hours, lack of sleep, constant takeout from the Chinese food place around the corner, lighting plots and set blueprints and one man toiling with a quill pen four hundred years ago that had driven her to this.

What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.

“Blackout go.”

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Sorry, I Was Distracted by that Colosseum Over There

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Peer Reviewed: Richard Chetwynd, Kasteel Well faculty, Writing, Literature, and Publishing, Emerson College, Greater Boston

Being abandoned has never felt so advantageous.

Rome being a big city with much in it to see, my travel mates decided that they would leave our hostel without me and pursue their own agenda, leaving me to my own devices. Not that this bothered me very much, as aimlessly walking the streets of a city is not without its charms, but I wouldn’t have minded some company.

At this moment, though, I’m glad that I’m not listening to even to my iPod let alone having a conversation. I am on my way to the Vatican City, to see St. Peter’s Basilica in all its opulent glory and the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo fame. At first my route—the straightest line I could make out from Roma Termini Train Station to the Vatican, which is on the complete other side of the city—took me down busy streets thronging with activity. Pedestrians boldly cross streets in front of formidable oncoming traffic and the drivers of motorbikes seem blind to signs and signals.

I’ve now wandered onto a thin thoroughfare that undulates up and down hills, the noise of the cars and busses and tourists blocked startlingly effectively by the plaster-fronted buildings. This hilly street is lined with shops of porcelain and glass, tiny grocery stores and pizzerias, and crossed by dozens of other streets just like it.

Being conditioned by big cities, I look left and right as I cross each intersection, despite the complete lack of moving vehicles in this area. But now, coming at me at full force, is a glimpse of the Colosseum itself, its unmistakable arches and impressive height imposing even with just this slice of a view.

Halting in my tracks, I turn at a right angle to follow this unexpected windfall of an opportunity. I had been resigned to saving the Colosseum for tomorrow, when I went on the walking tour offered by my hostel, intending to do the Vatican today and the rest of Rome tomorrow. But my solitude means that my plans can change in an instant, and I gaze at the monolith of history growing steadily huger as my feet carry me forward. I pass under a footbridge holding photo-snapping tourists, and as I emerge on the other side the noise and traffic resume.

The Colosseum, with its green yard extending only a few meters before it is cut off by a main street and a metro stop, is predictably surrounded by tourists and those who would love to have their money. Passing between all of them, I make my way down the wide steps to cross the street and take my own tourist pictures of the magnificent relic. I can’t get all of the edges of the building into the frame of any of my pictures. Its enormity is such that it’s all I can do to squeeze in a little sky. Putting my camera away, I can just about fool myself into imagining that the growling of the traffic behind me is the roar of crowds watching swordfights, that the stands selling miniatures of Michelangelo’s David and little keychain Colosseums are actually selling fruit and olives, and that everyone I can see is not wearing jeans and tee shirts but togas and sandals.

Under the cloudless blue sky and warm November sun, I can’t help but think that, if all roads lead to Rome, then, in my case, all roads lead to the heart of it.

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Le Coeur de Paris

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Peer Reviewed: Richard Chetwynd, Kasteel Well faculty, Writing, Literature, and Publishing, Emerson College, Greater Boston

Paris: famed for romance, embedded in history, and a tourist favorite. The real Paris is just a few streets past the tourist shops with all of their signs in English and shiny rows of miniature Eiffel Towers. Streets of every size and angle shoot off in every direction under beige limestone façades, every window lined with a black wrought iron balcony. The further you get from the main streets, the easier it is to get lost.

The royal palace of Versailles is breathtaking, with its painted ceilings, ornate furniture, and thrilling history. The art is incredible, everything is gilded in gold, and you can walk through rooms that have seen kings and assassins, princes and spies. The gardens are like another palace unto themselves, stretching away for acres and studded with marble gods that eternally smile, frown, or engage in epic battle.

And missing the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, or the fantastic Sacre Cœur church on the top of the hill of Montmartre would be a crime. These three form a triangle of icons across both banks of the Seine River; when standing at one, you can see the other two. Paris’s legislated lack of skyscrapers sees to that.

But when you only visit to see the sites, you run a real risk of missing the sights. Getting lost in Paris is fun, especially because you can always, always find your way back. Métro subway stops are around every bend, some literally in sight of one another, and all of the lines connect in a webbed myriad. One little purple ticket can get you from one side of the city to the other. But before you descend those curiously clean steps to catch a train that runs every two minutes (Parisians get grouchy if they find they have to wait more than four minutes), take a look around the streets.

Try a Saturday. If it’s still morning, don’t expect much to be open except the bakeries, at least one on every street, with the buttery aroma of baguettes and croissants shifting through the mist like a cloud of deliciousness. All of the shops will be open by noon, but it would be a good idea to decide what your budget is before you step into a store. The closer you get to the bustling Gallerie de Lafayette on the right bank, the more attractive your credit card will look. For lunch, the best place to go would be a little hole-in-the-wall café with tables outside and only two waiters. The bigger restaurants are crowded with noise and crammed with tables from eleven o’clock on, but the smaller ones go by the natural flow of pedestrian hunger. If you find one early enough, and order crêpes and a glass of red wine, they’ll let you sit for an hour, just savoring, and savoring.

Keep walking around after lunch—French food may be delectable, but it is also heavy. Open air markets sell everything: Champagne grapes, fresh fish, handbags, hats, and more, while solicitors lie in wait around national monuments to pounce on unsuspecting tourists, declaiming in English of cheap trinkets, roasted chestnuts, and caricatures until you walk out of sight.

Late starts on weekends mean late ends. Everything is thrumming at night on Paris streets. Restaurants do swift business at eleven pm, record stores close their doors past midnight, and the traffic is even crazier than in the daylight hours. A beignet off a street vendor, a club pounding with music, and don’t go to bed before three am.

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Incense Stick

Incense Stick  
Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor

Three-dimensional whorls of smoke

Curl and curve with my breath

Suggestive of mushrooms and manta rays and owls’ eyes

Vague tails of baby dragons spinning

Toward the window opened

To discourage the smoke detector.

I’ve turned the desk lamp

To highlight the ephemeral curlicues

Like a spotlight on a dancer

And I, the sole witness of the audition,

Wonder about breathing secondhand smoke

But relish the red scent.

Ash falls

It’s three in the morning

And the movement of the burning suggests

Another spirit present to balance

Out my loneliness.

It’s one of my favorite kinds of night

Ponderously rainy with drips

That sound orange because they’re falling on the first leaves of autumn

And brick sopping up moisture

I know the slugs must be moving outside

Slow creatures caught between the aimless and the deliberate

Roused from their cold sleep

By flooded homes and forced to flee in the night

As my mother was

As my sister was

Would I had been there

It took a year for the house to recover

The stick is burnt halfway down now

Funny, the things we come to fear.

Ash falls

If only the smoke would prophetize

Or at least point the way

Up is a way

And now well do I understand the bends and spreads and twists it takes to get there

All right;

I would say point taken but

You are only all the kinds of round.

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Mine by Rights, a short story

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Peer Reviewed: Jon Papernick, Senior Writer in Residence, Emerson College, Greater Boston

Mine by Rights

“Come on, Prima, give it back!” Secundus was standing on his tip-toes and he still couldn’t reach the banana Prima was holding above her head.

She stuck her tongue out at him and walked away with the banana still held high, putting her nose in the air so she could be even taller. A force slammed into her back and she hit the carpet hard, the banana flying out of her hand and landing a few feet away. Secundus was heavy where he had crashed onto her back. He kicked her in the ribs, clambering over her to get the banana.

“Secundus!” A Director came through the door while Prima was still getting up. “Fighting Is Wrong. Give the banana back to Prima.”

Prima smirked as Secundus trudged over and thrust the hand holding the fruit into her face, his eyes on his gray shoes, which were two sizes smaller than Prima’s. She took the banana—which had fingerprints on it now—and walked away from him, not saying Thank You on purpose. When she looked back over her shoulder, Secundus had already slunk back to Tertia and the others, knocking over Octavus’s blocks on purpose and making the little boy scream.

“Prima, come here please,” said the Director.

Hoping she wasn’t going to be scolded too, Prima obeyed, peeling her banana as she went. The Director took a leash and fastened it around Prima’s wrist, making her switch her snack to the other hand, and then led her out of the door.

Prima had been out of the door before once, a long while ago, to go to the doctor. He had lived down the hall in a room much smaller than the one that belonged to Prima and the other kids. But the Director walked right past the doctor’s door and kept going down the hall, tugging on the leash when Prima hesitated and making her stumble. Prima scowled at the Director’s back. Just because Directors Are Always Right didn’t mean she had to like what they did.

She and the Director turned down lots of different hallways full of completely new doors. She tried to count them as she munched on her banana, but got confused when they kept turning corners. Finally the Director stopped in front of one of them, tapped something on a keypad, and then the door opened. “In here,” she said, unclipping the leash from Prima’s wrist.

The new room was small like the doctor’s room, with one whole wall that was a mirror. Little green lights blinked on some kind of rectangular machine in the corner, and directly underneath the fluorescent light was a little table and a chair that Prima thought looked too small for her. Maybe Quinta would fit in it, or maybe even Quartus, but when Prima sat down her knees hit the underside of the table.

“Director Irene Calloway, with homunculus 1001: Prima Control, female, aged nine years, six months, zero days,” the Director said to the mirror. Prima put her banana peel on the floor under the table, since she couldn’t see a trashcan anywhere.

“Thank you, Director Calloway,” said the ceiling. Prima jumped and looked up, but all she could see was a little black box with little tiny holes in it stuck to the plaster. “Experiment 276.1: Music Reaction 1,” it continued. “Director Calloway, you may commence.”

The Director put a pencil and a multiplication test on the table in front of Prima. It looked easy. Prima had taken tons of these before. They only went up to 12×12 anyway. Prima could do a hundred of them in two minutes and only get one or two wrong.

“Director,” said the ceiling, “please prepare to play the first track. On my mark.”

The Director went over to the machine with the green lights and got ready to push a button. “Get ready to start, Prima, when the Administrator says ‘mark’.”

It was usually 8×7 that messed her up. She could never remember if it was 56 or 65…

“One, two, three, mark.”

A hideous cacophony filled the room, like wires being dragged against each other and plinking and banging and hooting and something that might have been yelling except it didn’t sound human. Prima flew out of the chair, hitting her knees on the table on the way and sending the pencil and the test flying. The racket changed and kept going as Prima ran for the door. The Director seized her around the waist as she scrambled at the wall, her flailing arms knocking against a switch. The room was plunged into darkness as the screeching and yelling went on.

“What happened? Control the homunculus, Director!” the ceiling shouted.

“I’m—trying—Administrator—argh!” Prima wriggled out of the Director’s hold and rushed back to the locked door.

Light sliced into the room as it burst open, three more Directors rushing in. Prima ducked out of the door behind them as they bustled past, one of them leveling something long and thin across his shoulder.

“Don’t shoot until you see the target!” another one shouted. The door swung shut behind them and Prima scuttled down the hallway as they fumbled around trying to find the light switch. She couldn’t find the room where Secundus and Tertia and the others still were no matter how many corners she hurtled around, her soft gray shoes making almost no noise on the tile floor. A Director was opening a door just as Prima was rounding another corner, and she slowed down to sneak behind him into the room beyond, keeping very close and crouching low.

Soundlessly she tucked herself behind a cabinet of drawers in the new room, trying not to let her sigh of relief come out loud as the Director placed a tray of food down on a desk. The other Director behind the desk was staring at a hundred TVs at once, all of them in black and white.

“Did they get it yet?” Director who’d brought the food leaned over the back of the other one’s chair, peering at the TVs too.

“No,” the one in the chair murmured, his eyes darting from screen to screen. “They can’t even find it; it got out of the room somehow when it was still dark. Can’t believe they didn’t un-install the light switch after that darkness experiment. You’d think they could wait a few days for remodeling before they absolutely have to use the room again.”

The door slammed open and Prima shoved herself further back behind the cabinet in panic until all she could see was a white-knuckled hand on the doorknob. “Intern Farrigan, we need all personnel on search for the homunculus! What are you doing?”

“I was just supposed to bring Guard Alman his lunch—”

“Forget lunch, get out there!” The younger Director scurried out past the hand on the doorknob, his white coat flapping behind him. “Alman, did you find it yet?”

“Not yet, Director, and I can’t if you’re talking to me. Whose idea was it to put a light switch in an experimentation room, anyway?”

“None of the other homunculi would be tall enough to reach it. I can’t believe this one was—”

“It’s a nine-year-old kid, it can reach a light switch!”

“It’s a homunculus! Just find it, Alman, and page us when you do.” The door banged shut again.

“Yeah, like I don’t know procedure,” Alman muttered as he went back to the screens.

Prima ducked her head around the cabinet to study the televisions too. What if they could see her on them right now? She had to be sure.

Some of the screens showed hallways with Directors running up and down them, but most of them were of different rooms. One had a boy maybe Quartus’s age sitting in the middle of the room all by himself, another showed a girl hugging a big stuffed doll that was standing next to a huge wire robot that was holding food. In between a screen showing a bunch of babies not even as old as Octavus that were alone in their own cribs and an image of a Director yelling at a girl was the screen showing Prima’s room. She edged out just a little closer, trying to make sure all seven of the others were still there and okay. Secundus was poking Quartus while Tertia yelled at him. Quinta was showing Sextus how to do a puzzle and Septima and Octavus were piling up a tower, their little chubby toddler hands just big enough to grasp the cardboard blocks. Prima sighed in relief. The Directors hadn’t bothered them. None of the other screens seemed to show the room Prima was in, although some of them had bizarre things like a boy surrounded by a bunch of creatures that looked like hairy children with tails and ugly faces, and another that had a different boy who looked like he was talking to the wall. Not one of the kids looked as old as Prima was, though, which made her feel secretly proud.

She was trying to find a pattern in the screens that might show her the path back to her room when the door burst open again and she had to fling herself back behind the cabinet.

Alman started to speak, not taking his eyes away from the screens. “Did you finally—”

“Hands on your head and back away from the monitors.”

Prima’s eyes went wide as four people dressed in clothes that weren’t white rushed inside the way the Directors had hurried into the room with the screeching noise. One of them had the same long and thin kind of thing leveled in front of his face. Alman stood and obeyed them. Were these people even more important than the Directors, then, that they could order them around even though Directors Are Always Right?

“Secure the room, make sure there’s no one else here.”

“Who the hell are you?” Alman growled at them.

“Homunculus Rights Group. We’re shutting down this hellhole of torture.”

A woman’s face appeared right in front of Prima, making her scream a little. “There’s one hiding right here, Bryan.” There was no way to get around the woman in black clothes; Prima’s escape was completely blocked. Sirens began going off in the hallway, a much less complicated blaring than the clamor of the test room.

“Good, bring her out, she’ll be the first rescue.”

“You idiots, you can’t do this, don’t you know how expensive these things are to make—”

Bryan hit Alman with the back of the long and thin thing, and the Director fell to the floor. “Shut up, these are lives we’re talking about.” If only this woman would move, Prima could zip right past them all, she knew she could!

“Room is secure, Bryan.”

“Good. Laney, grab the girl, the other teams should be keeping the feds busy enough that they won’t notice you getting her out.”

“Yes, sir.” The woman reached behind the cabinet, and Prima tried to grab her hand to twist her fingers. Even if Fighting Is Wrong, she didn’t want the woman to touch her. The woman shook Prima’s hands off and grabbed her by her white shirt, dragging her out and saying something about how it was “okay” while Prima tried in vain to pry the woman’s fingers open.

The alarms were still screaming in the hallways as the woman hauled Prima out of the room. When Prima’s flailing and kicking almost got her free, the woman scooped her up and flung her over her shoulder. The breath woofed out of Prima’s lungs as she was carried down the hallways, turning corners even quicker than Prima had, fleeing the terrible noise.

The woman smashed her other shoulder against a door and suddenly they were in a huge space. Prima gasped and clung to the woman’s black shirt against a wave of vertigo. There were no walls, only dusty floor as far as she could see. The ceiling was the highest Prima had ever seen, and had been painted a brighter blue than Quinta’s marbles. Even the air was different, lighter, like Prima would only have to take half as many breaths to get just as much oxygen.

Prima heard an echoing crack and then the woman holding her tripped and fell face down onto the floor, dust swirling up in clouds from where Prima was half-pinned under her shoulder.

Footsteps crunched up to where Prima was struggling to get out from under the woman’s unmoving body, a weird, metallic smell rising up around them. “Think we can still use it, Director?”

There was a Director here? Oh, good. The Directors would make everything right be-cause Directors Are Always Right. Prima stopped wiggling and squinted up against the light of the brightest lamp she’d ever seen.

“No, it’s going to be emotionally scarred beyond repair now. And even if we could repair it, it would take too much time.” The Director sighed. “This is the oldest one we’ve ever had. Shame to have to waste it.”

“Yeah, it’s a shame.”

There was another crack, and the room went black.

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Butterfly in the Typewriter Press Release

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Assigning Editor: Kate Burke, Da Capo Press, Greater Boston
Published with permission, Da Capo Press 

BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER

The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole

and the Remarkable Story A Confederacy of Dunces

 “As the noxious fumes billowed into the car John Kennedy Toole faded from this world unaware that his manuscript tucked away in box would win the Pulitzer Prize twelve years after his suicide.” —Cory MacLauchlin

From a brilliant childhood to an ignominious death by suicide on a back road in Biloxi, Mississippi, the life of John Kennedy Toole has never been told with thoroughness and accuracy—until Butterfly in the Typewriter.  Biographer Cory MacLauchlin derives his insight on the late author of the modern classic A Confederacy of Dunces from scores of new interviews with friends, family, colleagues, and students in order to draw out a portrait of the man who was a study in contrasts: popular yet abrasive, brilliant yet ignored, laughing yet full of darkness.

Never before has the Southern author’s life been explored to such depth. The dark humor of A Confederacy of Dunces falls into perfect context when examined through the lens of Toole’s extraordinary life. The novel that made him famous was only published twelve years after his suicide, despite Toole’s repeated attempts to gain publishers’ attention. The novel went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and has been named by the New York Times among “Modern Novels: the 99 Best.”

Chronicling the saga of Toole’s life from his upbringing in New Orleans, his years in New York City, his frenzy of writing as he taught English in Puerto Rico, his return to his beloved hometown, and finally to his descent into paranoia and depression, Butterfly in the Typewriter is an authority on the author’s dramatic, passionate life.

Cory MacLauchlin is producer of the documentary John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point and a member of the English faculty at GermannaCommunity College. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife and son.
Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License