Weekly Writing Challenge: In His Study

Character sketch: If you are working on character development, think about your character’s stuff. What objects are in his desk drawer?

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John White Alexander 1856 – 1915
Fancy Dress

A short story based on the writing challenge above, featuring two characters in the novel I’m working on.  I wrote this last month so challenge-wise, it’s quite late – and a bit long.

He had been gone just twenty minutes, off to see a patient who required his immediate attention, and except for the tick-tock of the great clock in the receiving room, the house was silent.  Once assured that he was truly gone, his carriage now fading in the distance and the servants back to the downstairs kitchen to prepare for dinner and maybe do their usual gossiping about their master’s exotic wife, she slipped into his office.

The  smell of leather and dark woods greeted her as she pushed the door close, and she took a deep intake of breath to take it all in. But she had no intent to simply breathe in the air of his study. No, she’d come here for something else, something she’d spied earlier as she watched him writing on a ledger while she was reading a book–or trying to.

Judging by the postmark that she could see now, the letter was recent, sent from New York City, and tucked between two volumes of Latin prayer books on the shelf, next to the works of Shakespeare and Dante.  The prayer books had been given to her by her godfather and were her only remembrances of the man.  Luna had asked Devlin to set them aside for her in his study, for her own receiving room – a ‘lady’s study’ he called it – was still in the process of being decorated and was woefully devoid of books.   It was really just a pathetic imposter to his own study, which was why at every chance she could get, she would slip into his study and sit in his chair and read his books.  It was also more exciting that way.

Luna sighed as her eyes returned to the books on the shelf.  Normally she never would have paid those prayer books any attention, for he always had other things more interesting to read in his study. But the corner of the letter nagged at her, as if challenging her to pick it up.

And for a few minutes, she obediently stayed away from the shelf, where she often found him during some evenings, looking over figures of his investments or the income generated from the lands that his uncle bequeathed him.

No, she shouldn’t do it. She shouldn’t pry.

But even Luna knew that it would only be a matter of time before she’d casually walk over towards the shelf, delicately pry the letter carefully from between the two books, and sit down before his desk to investigate her latest acquisition.

His desk was not cluttered.  Far from it, it was neat, with everything in its proper place.  The inkwell with its loosely covered ink bottle (which she tightened) and the ink blotter were both arranged on the left side of the desk, and she found herself smiling.  Devlin wrote with his left hand, the first she’d ever seen anyone do and one that she had to admit, had charmed her when she first met him. Her godfather used to say that to write with one’s left hand was the work of the devil, but Luna didn’t care.

Holding the letter she’d just plucked out from his book shelf, Luna sat down on his chair, and making a mental note as to how the papers had been arranged just before Lord Chesterfield’s  note arrived requesting his services as a medical doctor, she gingerly slipped the contents from its envelope.

There was no letter.  Instead, a photograph emerged from the inner confines of the envelope and Luna frowned.  The subject was seated on a cane-backed chair, one leg bent at the knee and brought higher than her hip.  She was looking playfully at the camera, her slim waist enhanced by the tight corset that she wore – which was plain to see because other than her underthings which included her chemise top, stockings and boots, she was not wearing anything else.  There were no voluminous skirts with their petticoats peeking underneath.  No morning coat to cover her bare shoulders either.

Instead, the young woman on the  photograph wore strings of pearls around her neck, and other than her underthings, she wore nothing else.  Just her, dressed or undressed as she was, seated on the chair, looking straight into the camera.

For a moment, Luna stared at the photograph, confused.  In the world of London, this was not how women were supposed to dress in front of the camera in 1894, except maybe, in the privacy of the bedroom.

Of course, in her old world, where the temperatures rose and along with it the draining humidity, stockings,  petticoats and corsets were unheard of unless one was a foreigner willing to withstand the heat all covered up for the sake of modesty, while the locals walked around with only a thin blouse and a wrap skirt, and dainty slippers on their feet.   But she was no longer in Manila, Luna thought.  She was in London now, and she’d spent more than two weeks getting educated on how she was supposed to dress from here on – from the corsets that were supposed to bind her waist and give her an even more curvaceous form than she already had, to the skirts and their petticoats that made walking up and down stairs and narrow hallways almost an impossible task, not to mention getting in and out of carriages without any help.

Yet here she was, Luna thought, staring at a photograph of a woman who should have been fully dressed like she herself was now, even though she was at home.  She’d need the help of the maid to get out of the layers later on that evening, though more often than not, it was Devlin who did the loosening of the ties that bound her corset as well as the slipping of the silks off her skin, one delicious layer at a time.  She looked forward to it every night, the moment the half-open door between their rooms opened wider and he’d walk in, dressed only in his shirt and his trousers, his coat and waistcoat left in his room.  It made having two separate rooms a useless arrangement, for they had yet to sleep separately since arriving in London two months earlier.

It did make the task of having to dress each morning with the help of her maid a chore, but Luna knew it made Devlin happy to take her out to see London, walking through lush green gardens for spring had set upon the land, and he wanted to capture each bright new day before the rains, he said, would return.  Some days she barely saw him during the day, the hours spent with solicitors and investors and sometimes, with Lord Chesterfield, an old friend of his uncle’s.

But as Luna stared at the photograph, she forgot all about the garden walks and the strolls through the museums. She forgot the nights spent in his arms, crying out his name as he claimed her with his mouth, his hands, his body and his soul.  And when Luna turned the photograph over, the words the woman had written made her throat tighten, and the tears cloud her vision.

To my Dev,

“Put your thoughts to sleep,
do not let them cast a shadow
over the moon of your heart.
Let go of thinking.”

Congratulations on your marriage. I see that you followed your heart…finally.

Love,
Lady Tara

Lady Tara!  Panic mingled with envy as Luna’s mouth turned dry.  She stared at the woman’s face, her belly clenching at the thought that once, Devlin had loved such a woman as this, seducing him long after the photograph had been taken.   She felt anger build inside her, the jealousy growing as she dragged her gaze away from the woman’s beautiful face, her perfect nose and wide eyes, lips that curled slightly along the edges, as if she knew something that Luna didn’t.

The pulse drummed between Luna’s temples, deafening beyond the sounds of the clock ticking on the mantelpiece behind her.  The letters and the inkwell, along with the books and neat stacks of paper in front of her, blurred in front of her eyes as she fought the urge to crush the photograph in her hands, rip it to pieces and toss the remnants into the fireplace downstairs.  Her fingers trembled as she stared at the woman again, her mind taking in the woman’s beauty despite the horrible assumption of what she was.

A woman of the night perhaps?   She dreaded the thought, though she hated herself more for even thinking it.

His lover?

“She can be quite dramatic with her quotations of Rumi.”  Devlin’s deep voice broke through the thundering of the pulse between Luna’s temples, forcing every other thought inside her head to be silent.

She turned to face him. “Lady Tara?  Why would she send you this?”

“Why would she not?” Devlin drew closer, and without taking his eyes off her own, plucked the photograph from her hands.  “Does she offend you?”

Luna did not answer.  Something in his tone told her not to say anything.  It was in his eyes, in the way they turned into ice.  Offend?  His question surprised her.  She did not feel as offended as she felt the familiar slivers of jealousy coursing through her veins at the sight of scantily clad woman in the photograph.  All she really wanted to know now was whether Devlin truly loved her, or did he still have feelings towards this brazen creature, who dared call herself Lady Tara.

Devlin returned the photograph between the two leather-bound notebooks, the same corner still sticking out like it did earlier.

“I forgot my satchel.  There’s no point in trying to treat a patient without it, even if all he wants to do is talk,” he said, turning away from her and picking up the leather bag next to the desk.  He headed towards the door, as if he had not even noticed that she had just discovered a secret he’d been keeping from her.

“Are you having an affair?” Luna asked, finding her voice again.

Devlin stopped before he reached the door but did not turn to face her.   She heard him chuckle.  “And when would I have time to have an affair when someone already holds all of my heart?  Are you jealous, my love?”

“Don’t you dare call me my love when you have a half-naked woman sending you her congratulations and writing to you like a lover.”

“Who do you think she is, Luna?  Is she someone who warrants your hatred, or maybe your jealousy?  Or maybe from the way she is dressed, is it the feeling of disgust that she brings out in you?” He asked, shrugging his shoulders.   “It’s nothing new to Lady Tara.  She’s quite used to that.  Not everyone is used to her boldness.”

His words confused her for a moment, but Luna gathered her wits about her, and she took a deep breath before answering.   “Disgust and hatred, no,” she said softly as she touched his shoulder, wishing he would turn to face her.  “But I am jealous, yes. Jealous that another woman holds a claim to your heart besides myself, and one that you seem to defend so wholeheartedly, even though you cloak your words so.  Have I not given everything up for you?  Is that not enough, Devlin?”

When Devlin turned to face her, Luna saw the faint smile on his lips, his neatly trimmed beard hiding the dimples that would have made him look him much younger than his thirty-seven years.  His blue eyes twinkled.

“It is more than any man deserves,” he whispered. “But cannot a sister have a little hold on her brother’s heart, too?  Can’t I make room for her even when you’ve claimed all of mine already?”

Luna frowned, baffled by what she had just heard.  “I don’t understand.  You have a sister?” she stammered.  “Why is she dressed…or rather, not dressed -”

Devlin gently placed a finger on her lips.  “Tonight, I shall tell you all about her,” he said.  “But I have to leave before Lord Chesterfield sends his carriage to fetch me, or worse, send for the undertaker, for the old man thinks he is dying again.”

“Is he?  He’s been complaining of death for the last five days.”

“No, he is not dying.  Just overindulgence of the sinful things in life, if you ask me.  And a general lack of exciting conversation about the adventures you and I have had in the past year.”

Devlin stepped out into the hallway but stopped when she called out his name.  He turned to look at her.

“How she is dressed – her attire, is that what you -” Luna began, stopping when she saw Devlin look around to make sure that none of the servants were close by, his eyes narrowing.  He returned into the room and stood in front of her, the medical bag now on the floor, forgotten.

“Is that what you men like?”  She asked boldly, though her eyes looked down towards the floor and her cheeks turned red.

The corner of Devlin’s lips curled upwards as he shut the door behind him.  He approached, his voice dipping even lower as he drew closer, his face mere inches from hers.  She smelled the scent of him, clean and manly, sending tingles up and down her spine.

“It’s not what I like…to see my own half-sister with only her underthings on, that is.  And I would not know what other men like either,” Devlin said, his hand tracing the pulse beating against Luna’s neck and down to the curve of her skin where neck met her shoulder.

Ever since they arrived in London, Luna’s body, once covered by thin blouses and wrapped skirts that were the fashion in the islands, was now completely covered with the latest in London fashion.   A high collar covered her neck and Devlin pushed down the swath of cloth, his hands moving down towards her back to undo the buttons that kept her skin, once so easily accessible to him because of the humidity of the typhoon belt, now covered up.

“But I think you already know what I like,” Devlin murmured as his lips descended on hers, gentle and soft like a caress.  “Even though what I like prefers to skulk around in my study when I’m not home, peering into things she knows well enough I share openly with her.”

“It is more exciting that way,” she whispered, feeling his body so close now, the tension that had long built between them the moment he caught her red-handed almost leaving her breathless.

“Is it?” Devlin asked, not waiting for her answer as his lips descended upon hers, claiming her, his hands drawing her even closer.  When he drew back, she caught her breath, realizing he had taken it away for that moment, and she looked up into his eyes as if hypnotized.

“I can think of something else more exciting than that,” he whispered, kissing her again as he lifted Luna up onto the desk behind her, the sounds of the soft rustling of her skirts drowning out the tick-tock of the clock outside.  Luna sighed, her arms wrapping about his neck as her body molded against his, the things on his desk, the treasures that she always enjoyed investigating in secret, now forgotten as his mouth and his hands investigated, tasted, and claimed her.

And in another part of London, Lord Chesterfield, not really dying but only suffering from a bad case of gas from too much cabbage soup, opened the note of apology from  his young friend, frowning with disappointment at the news that  the doctor was unable to see him that afternoon for something else had come up – something that required the doctor’s utmost – and most undivided – attention.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

In this week’s photo challenge, share your take on the idea of room — it could be an actual room in your house, a favorite gallery in your local museum, a cubicle at work. You could also take this challenge in a more abstract direction, and show us where you feel like you have room — or lack it.

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This was my first ever brand new car, and I drove it everywhere!  It took me places I never thought I’d go and actually enjoy myself (you know, for a city girl), like up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas where you saw all the stars at night and hear the deer munching on the apples outside your window.

To me, the world was wherever I found myself in.  If all else failed, there was always my mind palace…

Which takes me to the next picture I took while sitting in LA traffic right by the take off and landing strip at LAX.  Though it might be a bit constricting inside that car, I always knew it would take me anywhere I’d want to go (within driving distance, of course).

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The next picture is of the Taos, New Mexico skyline.  I have so many other pictures of the skyline but this was the one I could grab quickly without having to reduce resolution in another program.  This was in the outskirts of Taos, where people lived in earthships outside of the grid.  All around us are sage brush and at night you heard the coyotes howling.

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Another view of the sky, although this one has been cropped to center the walkway with the cross.  Writing often means I’m cooped up indoors the entire time so getting outside is really important for me – even though I don’t get to get outside of the city as much as I’d like.  But when I do, I go for places where I can see the sky and smell the trees.

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One of my favorite rooms that I wished I could have spent more time in was this master bedroom at the Phoenix earthship, also in Taos.  I loved the red adobe walls with mica that glistened.

It was so cool, temperature-wise, inside that room because part of the area where the bed is located is bermed against and partly under a hill of sorts, to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  And oh, the bed was divine.  I could have just written in that room all day – oh, and do other stuff, too, of course.

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Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections

In this challenge, tell us how you fell in love with books and writing.

In my childhood bedroom, a shelf hung over my bed, and on this shelf were the classic titles such as Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and even a collection of limericks.   My mother was a fan of Readers’ Digest books, and she may have bought every single one advertised in the mail.  My bedroom served as the storage area for all these books that she kept buying, and there was even a locked wall cabinet where she stored all of them – encyclopedias, abridged story collections and more.  Sometimes I’d sneak the key and open it, and read about supernatural hauntings from one book, and how to make fondant from another.

One day, either my mother ordered me to dust the shelf or I was  grounded for something I’d done that I have no recollection of, but something made me reach for the top of that shelf.  And at the top of it where only dust resided, one well-worn book had been tucked away, its corners bent, and without a cover to tell me what it was.  I was ten or eleven years old then, and this book would shape the way I preferred my stories and even the way I write them now.

The epilogue of this cover-less book talked about a man people had long forgotten in a country called Corteguay (fictional, of course).  His name was Diogenes Alejandro Xenos, a name which would be shortened to Dax as he gets older, and how, as the story opens and he is a child, bandits come upon their family home, kill his mother and sister, and he escapes into the jungle.  He grows up to become an outlaw, a playboy and even a powerful generalismo of his country.

I devoured that book from the first page to the last, not really understanding some parts but comprehending enough.  In an era before Facebook, YouTube and Google, I learned about sex, drugs, , death and power.  The book, if you haven’t guess it yet, was called The Adventurers and it was written by Harold Robbins.  I never knew who owned it, but after that first chapter, I did not care.  I ended up hiding the book myself, so that whoever stashed it away up there, would not find it when they came back.

Adventurers
The Adventurers by Harold Robbins from Glorious Trash

I would seek out all Robbins’ books after The Adventurers, though I had no problem doing so, for whoever had left that book on my shelf, had left a few more – The Pirate, Stiletto and A Stone for Danny Fisher. Who knows?  It could have been my mother, who didn’t think Harold Robbins was a good fit for all her Readers’ Digest Selected Book collection.

By the time I was 14, while my friends were enamored with Harlequin and Mills & Boon romances, I was into more adult fare – James A. Michener, James Clavell, and Robert Ludlum.  I also began writing – by hand on legal-sized sheets of paper that my grandfather still had long after he retired from his legal practice and then with a typewriter someone gave me (and probably regretted, since I typed till 3 am most days) for Christmas.  In high school, my stories found their audience among my classmates and one of them almost got me suspended because of its adult content.

Sometimes I yearn to find a copy of that book again – with its cover this time – though I really am in no rush.  I have the digital copy of it, and for now, should I ever lose that spark of writing, reading those first few pages should be enough to send me back in time, and back into my writing.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years

For this week’s writing challenge, we’re asking you to explore what age means to you. Is the the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom? Do things get better as you grow older, or worse? There are many ways to interpret age, often depending on your relationship with the passing of time.

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Fleur by tcbflyr

Age is a double-edged sword.  Just this week, my client told me about Noah, and how he lived to be 900 years old.  She said that he also preached to the people for 150 years about how a flood was coming, even though they all laughed at him and thought him crazy.  I tolerate such talk in my sessions sometimes, because I know that in an hour or two, I’d forget about it.

Then tonight, I learned that someone I knew from high school, and who I probably rubbed elbows with during the last ‘reunion’ party I attended two years ago, passed away suddenly last month.  They held her memorial in a city just an hour away from me, but since I’ve been away from FB and haven’t really been in touch with high school friends, I never knew about it.  And while I may not have been close to her at all, the knowledge of her loss jarred me with its raw power.

It was like a poison, seeping through my bones, seeking permanent residence after waiting for a way in for so long.   And that’s when the reality hit me – even though my father died last year and I should have been thinking such thoughts then, but didn’t.

We’re all going to die.  The only question is when.

I may not live to be 900 years old like Noah, and regardless of my general optimism about such things, neither would I probably live as long as I’d really want to – which would be till my 4-year old is grown up and I know that he will be alright.  Once upon a time, I thought I was invincible, and that I had nothing to lose, and that I could do anything I wanted.  But things changed the moment my son was diagnosed with autism, even if it was downgraded to a mild case, or at best “autistic-like”.

Suddenly that idea that we all know about – that we are mortal  – became more real than anything else in the world.  Suddenly it had power – so much power that it has made everything I do tainted with that dreaded thought that I could die any time – even in my sleep.

And what would happen to my little prince then?  Who would take care of him?  Most of all, would he even remember me?  Would he even know that once upon a time he loved me or that I loved him with every fiber of my being?

Then I ask myself why I had a child so late in life – because having a child at 40 is late in life, no matter how much I sugar coat it and say it’s not. I ask myself why I didn’t think far ahead enough  – that when he’d turn 20, I’ll be in my 60’s.  But I just never did think about it then.  I was probably too immature to think things through the way I think and worry about them now, simply because age, when paired with mortality, is no longer just a number.

It’s a state of mind.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

In this week’s writing challenge, you’ll write a post using three photographs for inspiration.

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Photo by Velvet Madrid

It was her regular haunt, a place where she could sit beneath the hanging flowers and listen to the tiny frogs splashing in the water in the nearby pond.  No one knew of this place – at least not her friends.  This was her secret place, a haven where she could enjoy her cappuccino, power up her macbook and just write.

Write till her cappuccino grew cold and she’d need another cup along with something else to fight off the caffeine shakes if she waited too long.  Maybe a muffin, if she wasn’t feeling like having an omelet or fried eggs and ham, for the latter usually left her stomach feeling weird.

The cats would watch her as they lounged on the steps, doing what cats did best beneath the shade of the hanging flowers.  They did nothing else, the languid heat seeming to melt them onto the cement steps where they’d stay for most of the morning.  By the time the sun would steal into their shady spot, it was time for them – and her – to go.  Back to the hustle and bustle of her real world, where most days except for the days she found herself here, she could barely hear her thoughts.

But this was a treat – yes, it was.  And as she sipped her cappuccino, smelling the sweet scent of hanging flowers all around her, she smiled.  She still had some time.  Yes, a little bit of time to herself.

And she would make every second count, she thought, just as the tiny frog that had been hiding beneath the shade of the lily pad emerged, and hopped into the water for a swim.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Object

The clock is loud, its tick-tock echoing somewhere in the room.  When I find it, it’s inside the entertainment cabinet, its battery slowly running out for the digital readout for the fourth city – now unnamed for its label peeled off a long time ago – is blinking, like a light about to go out.

Hoping that the battery compartment hasn’t rusted, for it’s probably been at least four years since I’ve replaced it, I flip up the lid and sigh, relieved, that the compartment is fine.  When I change the battery – it takes only one – the tick tock becomes louder, and I remember one night long ago when I had a lover over and he complained that he could not sleep because of the damn clock that kept on going and going and going.

It’s my father’s clock, I told him.  He got it as a business gift or something a long, long time ago.  I was probably only a teen.

Well, it’s too noisy, he grumbled.  I can’t believe how you can sleep through that.

Well, I can, I said.

Well, I can’t, he said.

Well, you can go then, I said.

Well, I will, then, he said.

Well, good-bye then, I said.

And so he left at around 3 am.  I remember, because that’s what my father’s clock said.

It’s a small thing, about 6 inches wide by 3 or so inches high.  It has a square face that tells the current time, while on either side of it are digital times for Paris, San Francisco, New York, and if I remember correctly, for the one whose sticker came off, Tokyo. It was a gift to my father by some one who worked for Evergreen Line, a “unified common trade name for the four shipping companies of the Evergreen Group,” or so says their current website.

I remember seeing it on my father’s desk when his company was still very successful, when he owned not just a gentleman’s club, but also a gas station, and during Christmas morning, we’d get into his Mercedes and his driver would take us through the city where people waited for him at certain places to give them their Christmas presents – money and a sack of rice.  And I’d like to believe because I must have heard it somewhere as a child, that he also once owned an island that disappeared when the tide came up – hey, the Philippines has over 7,100 islands.  The story could very well be true for I have memories of him taking us along with all his business friends and I was so excited that when I slipped off the inner tube, I thought I could just go down onto the bottom of the ocean, and walk to the shore.  And I’d like to believe that for one minute, when he was truly powerful, when people really did look up to him because he was, at one time, rich, that he really did own that island, that he really did business with the Japanese – and that one of them bothered to give him a little token of their gratitude.

And that now, I have that token.

It’s the only thing I have left of my father, really.  He died last year, poor and surrounded only by very distant relatives, with none of his children close by –  and I was so lost in writing and fangirl politics to really allow myself to grieve the loss of the man I really loved, no matter how flawed he was.

I still haven’t done all the grieving.  I haven’t even started.

Next week, he turns would have turned 70-something, I don’t even remember his age because in my mind, he’s never aged.  In my mind he’s always smiling, always telling me to not worry about the small things, to always do good any way I could because there was always someone worse off than I was.  And that though he may not have anything to leave me in money or property any longer, now that the days of wealth for him were long over, he did his best to give me an education, whether I took advantage of that gift or not.

Most of all, his greatest lesson for me was to listen; he said that it was the hardest thing to learn in the world.  And he’s right, it still is, especially for me.

And so I like the tick-tock that I hear through the house.  I may have kept it hidden for over four years, but this morning, I pulled it out of its hiding place, relieved to hear it still ticking, replaced its battery so I can keep on hearing it.

So I can keep on listening.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence

I wish I could make things better, and make your pain go away
I wish I could tell the people who never stop to think before they speak
that they hurt more than they claim to help
With words about things that they don’t even know the details of
With callous opinions of the same things that they have no clue of

I wish we didn’t feel like we have to have to have to belong somewhere
because we already are part of something much bigger
than this collective we’ve found ourselves in
But maybe it’s human nature to want to belong
Maybe it’s in our bones to want to sing the same song

But even I’m not too daft to see how everything has changed
I’m not so naive not to recognize that things will never be the same again
that the time has come for us to move along
The rift has widened, just like you said
It’s time to move on.  This place is dead.

Weekly Writing Challenge