“Gaps in human heart”

Each year at the end of summer a dawn arrives when tiny gold and yellow lights hang in the morning breeze.

You do not notice them at first over your cup of coffee and morning papers.

But then something always happens; a lonely bird cries high above in the misty skies, kids call each other’s names on their way to school, neighbour’s dog barks, and you stop reading news about cyclones and rise in house prices and Isis and clowns running for presidents, and look about you.

Suddenly it is there.

Your hands are cold around now empty cup of coffee. Breeze rattled your papers and is blowing them across the balcony. You tighten your gown around you and go inside.

Put the “Best of Bach” on.

Boil the kettle for cup of tea.

Autumn.

On one such morning I received small parcel of books from my usual online retailer.

Inside, separated by nothing more than a tissue paper; two very different looking books: Anne Enright’s “The Green Road’’ and Jane Juska’s “A Round-Heeled Woman”.

A solitary tree growing from the stony earth against vast skies adorns the cover of Ann’s book. Ann writes Ireland in the best tradition of Edna O’Brien and other fine Irish writers.  Her stories are delicate, authoritative, scary, fractured. “The Green Road” promises to be all that and more. The blurb tells me that it is “a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them”. Indeed.

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On the cover of Jane’s book tiny red hearts posing as rose-petals are arranged into a bigger heart shape. Subtitle reads: “My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance’.

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I only heard of Jane Juska’s ‘A Round-Heeled Woman’ couple of months ago when a friend of mine suggested I should read it. I did not ask why she thinks that or what the book is about. Title failed to make any impression on me. I never heard expression ‘a round-heeled woman’ and did not know what it means. But I ordered it anyway.

Later, on my way to the beach to court whatever still remains of summer, I took the volume with me.

On page five I read: ‘My heels are very round. I’m an easy lay. An easy sixty-seven-years-old lay. “Twas not always so. As these pages will show.’

And I smiled. That small, foolish smile of those who think they are in the know.

Jane will soon see to that.

At the end of the first chapter the text of the add Jane is about to place in ‘The New York Review of Books’ emerges:

‘Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.’

It was the moment of no return.

For Jane as she lived it.

And for me as I read it – utterly captivated.

At the age of 66, Jane – a respectable, retired English teacher from California, divorced for 30 years, and ‘except for a few skirmishes with men that ended sadly’ celibate – because ‘celibacy was better than humiliation’ –  decided, on her way home from watching ‘Autumn Tale’ to do just that – to write an add. The following day she did.

The book I was reading in the shade of a tree on a sunny beach in Wellington while babies, kids, teenagers, and their entourages passed, skipped and giggled by – is the report of what happened after the add was placed.

And what happened could be summoned in two words – life happened; messy, sticky, witty, heart-breaking, funny, moving … real.

Jane is neither prude nor superficial. Her descriptions of sexual encounters while explicit are told with taste.

Her add receives many responses, and the joy she feels while reading them is palpable. She did not have a date in three decades while raising her only child alone and working as a full-time teacher. Her son has since grown up and Jane has retired from full-time teaching, spent a year in psychoanalytical therapy, and has lost more than 100 pounds in the process.

Reading the letters she received Jane sorts them into three piles; ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and then sets to meet some of the men on ‘yes’ list in person.

Interesting arrays of characters emerges – men whose fantasises far outweigh their resources both; emotional and physical, those who enjoy interesting and stimulating intellectual conversations as long as no meeting in a flash is required, those emotionally unavailable, those suffering from old-age’s worse malady – absence of curiosity and the resulting incapacity for surprise.

And yet through all of it – Jane soldiers on with honesty, good humour and impeccable wit even when heartbroken, or despite of it. I learn that, falling in love at 67 and being rejected hurts just as much as it does at say – 17 or 37 or any other “number” that comes to mind.

Because despite marketing herself as an “easy lay” Jane is actually looking for love. Preferably with a sexy man who is also smart and available. Oh dear me! (this is me taking to myself on an almost empty beach).

Tucked inside the report on encounters with men, is the story of life Jane has lived as a young woman –  both unprepared and unaware of the pain ahead. Pain of childhood abuse, unhappy marriage, and loneliness that ensued and which was inevitably of the kind that only inhabits lives of those whose capacity for love far exceeds realities of their lives. They often turn to art. Writing in particular.

Slowly I pack the book into my beach bag and make my way towards the city.

On my way home and before the pale dusk settled over the rooftops, I remembered Ann’s book and realize how wrong I was to think it very different from Jane’s.

In their own way they both seek to fill the “gaps in human heart”.

 

 

 

 

An Afternoon in a Pub

Short story

They agreed to meet in a pub near where she lived.

It is what he does from time to time – asks her out for a drink or a meal, depending how much money he can spare.

Only rarely he lets her pay and only if she insists and he judges that she can afford it.

She was late and reproached herself for it; the place is only few minutes from her flat, while he probably had to walk all the way from his downtown office. She really should have been more organized. The whole day she was aware of that engagement. And it was after four in the afternoon.

She tried to remember what was she doing all day; it took an awful long time to peel herself off the bed, the wind rattled the front door all night – she hardly slept. Sweating was terrible too. Must be withdrawals. Her doctor said something about that last time she saw him which was not long ago but she could not remember what. She remembered him (the doctor) standing very close to her and stroking her arm then brushing his hands over her breasts. Which, she briefly thought are still rather firm and responsive.

Only later it occurred to her that she should have probably said something. Like – what do you think you are doing – or something like that, like those English women say. Easy for them – their mothers probably taught them how to do it.

Then there was business of washing and dressing. It took even longer. She felt big and ugly and lazy. Every move was like wading through the thick undergrowth. Paddling through swamp. In the end she threw well-worn dress over and shoes she once thought boring. It does not matter she thought – he is just a friend.

The place was empty but for a few middle-age men loudly betting on horses under the giant TV screen. Interior arranged to match shabbiness of their living rooms. Working-class pride.

She spotted him immediately – caressing a pint of a pale-yellow beer at one of the tables close to veranda. So she can easily go outside for a smoke.

He had a fresh haircut and a new looking shirt.

His greeting was of a familiar, carefully rationed warmth. She once asked him about it and he explained that he must be careful not to encourage her feelings for him since he cannot possibly give her what she truly wants and deserves, which he pronounced to be; ‘all consuming passion’.  He is just not capable of it being of Anglo-Saxon stock and raised by a war-veteran father and an overly strict mother.

At the time she thought of asking him what does he really mean by it, but thought better of it. She learned that, every now and then he would say odd things like that.

By the time she sat down and managed the smile, beads of sweat were traveling down her spine soaking her back and making stripes of her bra cutting into flesh.

He walked to the bar to bring their drinks and hot chips. She watched him eat in a way he does; with an apologetic greediness. A little boy comforting himself – hands deep in his mother’s most precious jar before she catches him. Guilty.

They talked;

How’s going?

Yeah, not too bad. You?

Ok, I guess. Still on holiday.

Wow that’s long.

Yeah, coming to an end, dreading going back.

Work is good – pays rent.

I suppose.

You should do something with yourself.

Like what?

Here – it is your local I am introducing you to.

So?

Look around; see those men over there where TV is?

She laughed hysterically; high pitched, uncontrollable outburst. Covered her mouth with hand and rubbed tears (supposedly from laughter) from her face.

What are you laughing like that for? Don’t you know what happens in pubs? You look around, flirt a bit, they buy you a drink or two, have a chat, take them home and if you still like them in the morning – do it again.

Really? I think I rather stick to my hourly rate.

You still doing it then?

What? Whoring?

Nah, just kidding. Too tired.

Other things?

Nicking you mean? Nah, lost the touch. Too slow. Got scared of cops after the last time.

Good. Stay scared. Don’t get into any more trouble.

What’s to you?

Just saying.

They left the pub and he walked her into the nearby dairy where loud noise announced their arrival to an Indian man standing behind the counter over-stocked with sweets.

He insisted on buying her a bar of chocolate before walking her home.

Before the Rains

End of summer holidays.

Every year at the end of January and before the rains end summer,

I try hard to cheer myself out of my holiday and into another year of paid employment.

Carefully, I go over all the benefits of having place of work and honestly admit that there are many.

I dare not to think of Charles Bukowski or even Tin Ujevic or any of the bohemian fraternity.

In this endeavour I mostly succeed as all the years gone by confirm.

Then I sit on the balcony and look across the roof tops,

Heavy, low clouds hang over the hill tops.

Cruise ship glides across the water away from the harbour.

Alone seagull screeches into the still, hot air, heralding his

Freedom.

To come and go

Unaccounted.

And I stayed there for a long time,

Until dusk brings cold breeze of night.

Then I must go inside and start preparing for

Morning’s work.

If only I can remember

Why.

 

Makeover!

After 183 posts and 44 months of blogging – Lantern Post has well and truly deserved a makeover!

And so one has been duly administered to ensure the old girl remains, if not exactly in the vogue, at least not completely dishevelled either -:)!

Makover

New, more up-to-date garments have been obtained and matron squeezed into them with rather much less ceremony than it was the case in her youth!

Sleepy streets of old Zagreb she nestled against in the background for almost four years, have been replaced by Wellington’s sunset.

It is, after all, what we see every day … sun setting over the harbour, shaded lamps casting glows over benches in Botanic Garden.

Where we sit and smile sentimentally to the images of a city we once knew, gliding across our inner vision, briefly; like a snow-flakes drifting across frozen glass-pane in the winter morning.

Then we walk to the ‘Room with a Balcony’ thinking nothing at all.

Just the two of us;

The Lantern and

The Keeper.

In a new City.

Joy for the New Year!

I know … after not blogging for few months – here I come with a second post in three days!

Between you and me – consistency has never been my strong suit. I blame me it on restless and relentless mind! That in addition to a holiday season, meaning – some free time at last!

Now to the real reason for this post – in a word – sheer joy!

Yep – that’s right! As the popular song goes – ‘don’t believe me just watch!’ Or in our case – read, since, luckily, you can’t see me (luckily because I am typing this in my nighty and no it is not the one suitable for audiences!).

So why joy you may ask!

Shall I tell you? Oh, ok then here goes:

New Year has arrived to New Zealand’s shores already and with the spectacular fireworks over the Wellington harbour which I watched from my balcony with a glass of chilled Riesling in hand while trying to establish any kind of conversation with my daughter who was (judging by the noises over the phone) having hell of a good time with her mates in Queenstown (the suspicion has since been confirmed as true – good on her I say and can’t wait to see her tomorrow and hear all about it!).

Today (1 January 2016) was an absolutely amazing summer day! Living in Wellington you learn to appreciate and treasure such days like your family’s most precious heirlooms! So, just like everyone else, I trotted down to the beach and here is what I found there:

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Well half of Wellington at least!

We all (that is to say who ever was perched on the sand next to you/passing by, etc) wished each other happy New Year and thank God (Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, etc.) for the weather. In our hearts of hearts, we all knew it would not last – so offering sincere gratefulness to our respective gods was in hope to prolong it even if just for a few more days!

Everyone ventured or was coaxed to swim (yours truly included -:)! As soon as sea reaches your ankles – shivering starts! Never mind that minor annoyance; with assorted degrees of speed and variations of; ‘oh isn’t it lovely once you get in’ – we all made it! Yours truly even swam past floating pontoons and small boats which, I will have you know, almost qualifies as swimming in the open sea!

On the way back from this glorious escapade, I climbed on the tiny space still available on the pontoon and indulged in listening sounds. Yes, sounds – not words or snippets of conversations. No one person spoke in English! Amongst lively conversations and laughter, I could recognize German, Italian, Spanish, French and most likely Chinese.

I will take the risk of sounding rather cheese here – but I truly felt overwhelmed by joy and gratefulness in that moment … for so much;

For being alive and reasonably healthy,

For New Zealand … this tiny speck of dirt in the mighty Pacific ocean;

  • where total strangers will ask you to come ‘over for a drink’ for no other reason but because it is Christmas/New Year,
  • where you can leave your belongings safely on the beach for hours without a fear of losing them,
  • where people from all over the world come to stay and are made welcome regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation,
  • where there are no drone strikes,
  • no crazed members of Islamic State threatening to cut my, or anyone’s else head off,
  • no famine (ocean is brimming with fish if all else fails),
  • no recession (not like seen elsewhere in any case),
  • no Donald Trump trying to take the country over and, rumour has it – Vladimir Putin may not even know we are on the planet (thank God),
  • where my daughter can go to University without fear of being taken hostage or killed.

I do love you New Zealand!

Have a Happy, Safe and Peaceful 2016 Everyone!

In a words of an old Greek: ‘Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.’ (Epicurus)

Thank you everyone for reading the Lantern!

Tides of change

It has been a long time since I last wrote.

It was a winter of my fiftieth birthday.

It is summer now.

Outside my windows night cradles round-faced moon into a bed of stars.

No breath of wind to upset the delicate operation.

As in attendance – air stands still and warm.

And if I am now to think about all that has come to pass in those last few months – it seems every new season brought some changes to my life.

Perhaps it all started with that shy, early autumn when I wrote ‘Visitor

After,

Winter arrived and lingered for quite some time – bleak and colourless. There were days when wind was merciless. There were days when breathing was too.

In the midst of it all, and quite unexpectedly – I was offered a new job. One I never really thought about. Initially I was unsure what to do. Not that I was sure of much at the time.

And then, as often is the case – we are nudged towards the road we need to take, even if, or especially when we cannot see it ourselves.

From the distance of almost six months – I understand that it was the right, almost necessary step to take.

The new job brought new challenges and new responsibilities – all of which ensured that, by the end of each day, neither desire nor energy were left for another thought let alone reflection.

I sometimes wondered whether I would ever write for pleasure again.

Instead of quiet contemplation and writing – I was challenged to learn on the go and come up with solutions on demand. And through it all I realized that solving problems and caring for others is still what I love doing and, so they tell me – am good at it. Which is to say – I work hard and care genuinely, all of which comes naturally once we are engaged with purpose and meaning.

As winter neared its end and spring reluctantly knocked on the door – I moved the house too.

The ‘Writer’s Den’ which was nestled amongst trees and shrubs gave way to a ‘Room with a Balcony’ – no more than ten minutes’ walk to downtown and my office, or twenty minutes to the closest beach.

Once I moved in – I remembered the little piece I titled ‘A Wish List’ and wrote some three years ago, for one of the wishes was ‘to own the room with a balcony’ …  and this is what I now

WP_20151223_001.jpg see from my balcony.

Someday I watch boats sailing in and out of the harbour and hear

Cries of seagulls before the day-break.

As sun fills the ‘Room with a Balcony’ every morning and lingers over it in in evenings, I read Daniel Klain for he ponders such wisdom as: ‘Every Time I found the Meaning of Life They Change It’, Clive James as he wrote; ‘Cultural Amnesia’ and Anna Akhmatove for she wrote

I Taught Myself To Live Simply:

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses about life’s decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

 

 

 

Fifth decade

CakeFew days ago I turned 50.

Travelled down South to celebrate with my lovely daughter and some of my best friends. Party for my North Island friends is scheduled for the coming weekend. Twenty-one years in the ‘God’s Zone’ forged some great friendships that span length of both islands. For all of them I am deeply grateful.

In between partying I managed to look in the mirror. Carefully. Nothing. I came closer to the mirror – nope, still nothing. Looking pretty much the same. Either that or suffering from some serious self-delusion. I am told it is not uncommon.

Apparently the said affliction selects  its victims exclusively from the middle-age population. Which in itself presents conundrum since, courtesy of cosmetic surgery and endless beautification procedures, is fast becoming an obscure term. Fifty is new thirty I hear. Nice. So thirty is what … new ten?

Well if that is not bad enough; the peculiar form of self-delusion provides no warning signs and, yes you have guessed it – there is no cure or even remedy to ease the symptoms. So how to recognize the poor sufferers?

Apparently there are few clear clues, one of which I am afraid to have suffered morning after my significant birthday party!

Still for the benefit of fellow suffers here they are;

Your mirror turns into a time machine; the reflection is no longer of reality but of memory – the image of yourself as you remember it.

That is until;

  • You accidentally caught sight of yourself in the shop-window from where a middle-age stranger is staring back at you wearing your clothes; sneakers with rainbow coloured laces and all. Or
  • Unsuspected youth wearing regulation uniform of respectable school offers you a seat on the public bus. You look around for the older person the seat was intended for. There aren’t any. Or
  • Twenty something shop-assistant at the cosmetic counter tells you that you have a great skin for your age. And what age is that you would have asked if you can be bothered. But you can’t. Or
  • When the regular twenty/thirty-something ‘might get lucky tonight’ enthusiasts attempt to chat you up you experience powerful urge to launch for their ears by which to drag them home and put them into the naughty corner. Only firm clasp of hands behind your back stops you. Or
  • Your wardrobe starts to resemble cold-war firmly divided between ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’ zones. Comfortable zone expends each day (cotton nighty and fluffy slippers are in it -:)). Or
  • Your doctor explains to you in some details about such things as knee cartilage wear and tear and comfortable shoes. You make mental note to hold onto the last pair of stilettos you bought no matter what. Or
  • You notice onset of an interesting and never before experienced phenomenon – you need longer hands to read small print! The mental note to visit an optometrist follows. Or
  • Your internal heating works overtime. Never before have you thrown blankets off the bed in the middle of a cold night. Your wonder whether you can save on heating bill! Or
  • You are surprised to find that Tinder is actually not what you thought it is – an app helping owners find their lost pets. Or
  • You are unable to decide whether ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a comedy or a horror movie. Most of it seems either laughable or painfully uncomfortable. Or
  • Your hairdresser nudges you ever-so-gently towards mature styles and colours. You consider changing a hairdresser but remember cost. Or
  • You resolve to try one more and this time guaranteed to work diet that promises to make you ‘slim and trim’ in no time but cannot remember the rules while shopping for groceries. You buy your favourite chocolate cake anyway to devour with your favourite TV show.  Or
  • You listen to your well-meaning friends and brows on-line dating sites only to find that men of your age are looking for ‘women under 50 only’. For a brief moment you wonder whether they have ‘too young’ rule as well but get bored soon and abandon the whole exercise.

Then;

One day you wake up and look into the same mirror … and whola – it is you. At that very moment.

With all your cry/smile lines, and not-so-firm skin or bright eyes or bouncing step … and you smile at your image with grace and acceptance that only living for five decades brings!