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The Secret Lorikeet

Authors’ Note:

 

This piece was written collaboratively as a creative writing project in a high school English class in response to a prompt from the textbook Creative Writing: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Burroway and Stuckey-French). There were four contributors: two students, and two teachers. The prompt is given below.

 

Look through the want ads in a newspaper or at an online auction site such as eBay. Find a listing that intrigues you and bring it to class. Divide up into small groups. As a group, choose one of the ads the members of your group brought in and collectively imagine the story behind this ad. Who is the person selling this object and why is he getting rid of it? Have financial setbacks forced him to sell a prized possession? Or, is he just trying to clean out his deceased grandmother’s house? Perhaps he’s fencing stolen goods. Try as well to imagine the whole history (or what is sometimes called the provenance) of the object—not just how the seller came by it, but also who made it or found it originally, who has owned it along the way, where it has traveled, and so on. Someone will need to take notes.

Now, exchange ads with a second group. Each group should now brainstorm a character who wants to buy this item. In fact, it should be a character who absolutely must buy it. Why does he need this item so desperately? Why must he outbid all others? What is he willing to spend? What will be the personal cost of bidding that high? What will he do with the object if he gets it? What might he be willing to do if someone outbids him?

 

 

I.
         

Heimanu Topasna’s hands were large and agile as they meticulously revealed a bird’s waxen form at his workstation. His tools were, as always, neatly arranged: the metal loop, the thin blade, the sharp knife, the small alcohol lamp to warm the wax against the chill of the Parisian winter. He suspected that his boss, Monsieur Blais, would look at this sculpture and see a parrot. Heimanu knew it was, rather, a Kuhl’s lorikeet like the one his mother had kept in a wicker cage when he was a boy. His name was inspired by his mother’s pet— Heimanu meant “bird’s crown” in Tahitian, her native tongue, and she had laughed to see the dark, dark hair on her newborn’s head, such a low hairline, so like the crown on her beloved lorikeet’s head. His father had grumbled, “Woman, you are delirious from your labor” but agreed that Heimanu was a fine name.

        It suited Heimanu to keep the sculpture’s true nature to himself. Walking the gray, snowy streets of Paris, he longed to feel invisible, private, secret. Despite the gaiety of girls in knee-baring beaded dresses and jovial Americans freely drinking and widely grinning, Paris still felt like a city of loss to him, even five years after the end of the war. He saw the absence of buildings, what was missing from the skyline, more lack than substance to the frenzied energy swirling on the streets.  He yearned for the warm sands and sparkling water of Papeete, for the self-contained community of an island. A place where his presence was not a surprise to the other inhabitants. So unexpected to see a figure from a Gauguin painting wandering their city in a tightly buttoned shirt and proper waistcoat. Such people did not deserve the joyful beauty of a lorikeet when all they wanted was the expected parrot.

        He set his spade-tipped tool on the table, stood up from his simple wooden stool and surveyed his work. Yes, something in the tilt of the bird’s head caught the attitude of his faraway mother’s faraway pet. It was time to prepare the mold around the form. Then the wax bird would be melted away, ephemeral as truth, and the mold would be ready for the glass chips and the kiln. Monsieur Blais often grumbled that Heimanu’s affection for this cire perdue method of glass casting was a waste of time and yet another example of the superiority of properly French artists. Heimanu ignored this criticism; after all, he could cast ten perfume bottles while the others were still working on their sixth. He had earned this time beyond bottles; it was his. Heimanu needed his time to create mindfully, step by step, to survive this lonely sprawl of a city. Exhaling deeply to rid himself of the miasma of negative thoughts, Heimanu reminded himself that the Baccarat Company paid him a far better wage than he could have ever hoped to earn at home in Papeete.

        As he mixed the plaster for the mold, the bell on the door tinkled its deceptively cheerful jingle. Monsieur Blais had arrived. A thin, highly twitchy man, Monsieur Blais seemed as if he had been hastily sketched with pen and ink, all bold lines and no depth. His gray wool jacket and red silk tie were the height of fashion but became somehow funereal on his sparse frame.

        “I see you are working on another of your special projects, Monsieur Topasna. Did you finish the order of perfume bottles I gave to you on Wednesday?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “All right, then. I suppose we can find someone to buy it. Lord knows, the Benichou family seems to be quite mad for your work, no accounting for tastes, I suppose.”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “What’s this one, then? A parrot?” Heimanu smiled and ambled to the bins of colored glass bits against the far wall of the shop, so Monsieur Blais could not see his face. Selecting red, yellow, purple and blue in addition to green, Heimanu’s inner eye dazzled with the colors of the lorikeet.

        “What are you doing?” Monsieur Blais’s nasal tones penetrated Heimanu’s chromatic reverie.

        “Selecting colors for the sculpture, sir,” he replied.

        “Well, kindly desist. Green. Green only. Everyone knows parrots are green. All those other colors will make it too complicated. Too expensive.”

        “But—”

        “I give you a lot of leeway, Monsieur Topasna. A lot. You do know how lucky you are to work for the Baccarat Company, I trust. We have a reputation to uphold. I’m a modern man but I can’t think of any other company that would have hired someone with your background. Toe the line, Monsieur Topasna. Do I make myself clear?”

        Allowing the variety of bright glass chips he had chosen to slip from his hand and back into their respective bins, Heimanu replied, “Yes, sir.”

        Three days later, after the mold had been made, with only green glass chips added, then broken open and the whole carefully polished, Heimanu held the finished sculpture in his hands.

“Well,” he said, “I guess you are beginning your life as a parrot. Only I will know that you were meant to be something else, something brighter. Only I will know you are truly a lorikeet.”

 

II.

 

Monsieur Blais sat at his desk adjacent to the workroom, and reread the letter from the renowned perfumer Bourjois, informing him that René Lalique would be manufacturing the perfume bottle for the new scent L’Aimant, but that he was of course grateful for all the work the Baccarat company had done with the bottle for the classic La Rose Jacqueminot. Monsieur Blais ground his teeth, knowing his wife would be talking nonstop of L’Aimant for months to come, and would surely expect a bottle for her birthday. And he would have to buy that bottle from René Lalique!

Blais stood and paced, muttering the names of every perfume his (highly respected!) company had not received the commission to produce a bottle for. Here he was, with some of the most elegant crystal in France—no, the world!—and a connection to Bourjois himself, and he was receiving a mere portion of the fruits the bountiful market could provide! Blais knew that public taste could shift in an instant. How long would the frenzy for Bourjois perfume, and the bottles it came in, last? Bourjois was not grateful. If he were, he would recognize the beautiful work Baccarat had done on La Rose Jacqueminot, Bourjois’ first successful perfume!

Enough. It did no good to wish ill on those who provided him with his livelihood. No, the culprit was René Lalique. He always managed to get ahead of Blais, receiving this commission, creating that outrageously popular design. Well, Monsieur Blais would strike first this time! He needed something new, not perfume bottles. Something else, something that would be purely Baccarat. Blais strode into the design room, filled with worktables strangely dim now that the alcohol lamps were not lit. He scanned the shelves crowded with new and forgotten molds, an eclectic jumble of unused epiphanies. A bottle with the shape of a piece of fruit. Molds for the crystals of a chandelier. An innovative wine stem, formed from twining snakes.

There, in the back. The mold for a parrot. Blais picked it up, and recalled immediately who had made it. That Heimanu Topasna. The man’s name made him hesitate. Heimanu had quit, just a year ago. Gone back to his island somewhere. He’d been a strange man, and entirely insubordinate. And yet… his work always managed to sell. Monsieur Blaise hefted the mold onto a table and dragged over a bin of green glass chips.

 

III.

 

Sophia Benichou loved her husband. She reminded herself of this as she surveyed the mountain of boxes in the living room. She walked to the nearest stack and the continental heels of her patent leather pumps tapped loudly on the now uncarpeted floor and echoed against the newly bare walls. She opened the box neatly marked “Le Salon Quatre” (Living Room 4), her red lips curling in a rueful smile. As she suspected, the box was full of nonsense that wasn’t worth the cost of shipping to America. Why, here she was, using beetroot and Vaseline because lipstick was rationed, and Albert wanted to spend their last centimes ensuring that they could begin their new life surrounded by, what—she tossed crushed newspaper to the floor— crystal sculptures of birds? But she loved Albert, every exasperating inch of him.

        At least he was willing to leave. They were not the only family from La Synagogue de la Victoire planning to relocate but they were one of the few. The Sellems had, in fact, declared that any family cowardly enough to flee was unpatriotic and France didn’t need them anyway. M. Sellem seemed sure that France would have no problem putting Hitler in his place and that the events in Poland were but a minor setback. Sophia had always paid more attention to the affairs of the world than was proper for a woman of her class, but she couldn’t help thinking that all the Jews of Europe were in danger, not just those in Germany and Poland. And Albert, dear, sweet Albert, had agreed. They began packing just after Rosh Hashanah and nasty M. Sellem could just go fly a kite, as the Americans said.

        A dark brown curl escaped one of her now-rare hairpins and fell annoyingly over her forehead as she extricated one of Albert’s sculptures from the box. The cool glass felt slick in her hand and the piece, a smooth green parrot, was heavier than she expected. It was a lovely piece, from Baccarat’s, the premiere glass maker in the country.

        “Do you remember when I bought that for you?” Albert’s voice startled her, sounding hollow as it echoed in the emptied room. She tucked the curl back in place and looked at her husband. He seemed somehow forlorn, a middle-aged man beginning to thicken around the middle with a bald-spot that the yarmulke he wore to temple could no longer completely conceal, standing on the bare floor of vacant room. He smiled dreamily, dark eyes flashing, and suddenly she could see again the madcap boy she had married, full of plans and dreams, spilling his drink as he laughed with his friends.

        “You were pregnant with Sarah and sick as a dog, poor darling.”

        “I remember.”

        “And that Polynesian fellow at Baccarat’s, remember him? He said to chew ginger root; his mother swore by it.”

        “It helped,” she said.

        “He gave us such a good price.”

        “He felt sorry for me; I was so miserable,” she laughed.

        “No,” Albert said, reaching out to touch her cheek, gently. “No, he saw what an adventurer you are. How fearless. He wanted you to have something beautiful and exotic to remind you of this.”

        “He did?”

        “You’re right, of course. I did. I do.” Albert’s hand moved from cupping her cheek to holding her hand. His skin was warm and dry, and she took comfort in her husband’s touch. He kissed the top of her head, gave her hand a final squeeze and left the room, footsteps reverberating. She retrieved the newspaper from the floor and re-wrapped the glass parrot carefully before returning it to box number four. What were a few centimes worth anyway, compared to the reminders of a shared life?

 

IV.

 

Sarah Benichou held up the Parisian scarf in order to examine it more closely. It had been her mother’s and the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through the Fifth Avenue apartment’s windows highlighted the pattern of birds on the delicate silk. “This is lovely. I think I’ll keep it,” she commented to her son, Jean Paul. “I remember Maman wearing it those final days in the hospital. She certainly loved her birds, didn’t she?”

“She sure did,” he agreed. “Look at this funny thing!” He held up the green glass parrot that had been wrapped in the scarf. “This is so tacky. It looks like a prize you’d win on Coney Island!”

Sarah laughed, eying her son’s tie-dyed shirt and low slung bell bottom jeans with a critical eye. “Ha ha! If YOU think it’s gaudy, it must be over the top. Are you sure you don’t want it? It might fit in perfectly with your new psychedelic decor. Or put it in the box for the antique shop over there.”

As Jean Paul wrapped the bird in a few sheets from the New York Times, he chided his mother. “Not everyone can pull off the daisy mini-dress like you, Mom! Even my girlfriend can’t sit down in one.”

Sarah sniffed as she tugged down her admittedly short skirt. “Well, in any case, that’s the last of it. I’ll go down and hail a cab while you carry the boxes. That antique store is open until 5:00 and the owner said he’d look through Maman’s things while we waited.”

“It was on Madison and 82nd Street, right? We could go over and check out that Andy Warhol exhibit at the Metropolitan  after we’re done. Also, I could use a drink. What time is your plane?”

“What? Oh. . . 9:00.”  She was gazing wistfully at the pile of her parents’ belongings they had been sorting through for most of the day. Jean Paul could see she was going to start crying again, so he quickly grabbed two boxes and  headed out the door.

“You grab that small one. I’ll meet you downstairs. Be sure to lock up.”

The door swung shut behind him and Sarah looked around the big empty living room. She thought back to her childhood, closing her eyes and envisioning the room decorated just like the Paris salon in her childhood home. Over the years in Manhattan, her parents had sold off a lot of their family possessions they had brought from France. There were ghostly rectangles where art used to hang on the walls, and empty, dusty shelves. The few remaining pieces of furniture were covered in white sheets. Sighing heavily, Sarah leaned over to pick up the final box, noticing that Jean Paul had not done a good job of wrapping up the glass parrot. It peeked out of the newspaper with a gimlet eye, almost as if it was accusing her of desertion by taking it to the antique dealer. The painted on eye had always bothered her as a child. An old memory flashed into her mind: her mother carefully placing the parrot on the mantelpiece, reminiscing fondly about how her husband had given her the parrot in the early months of their marriage, before they had fled the country and emigrated to New York.

“Maybe I should keep this…” She bit her lip,  “But I can’t fit it in my bag. Don’t be silly– it would just get broken on the plane. And where would I put it? Bob is upset about all  the other things I shipped back already.” She quickly rewrapped the bird, hiding its reproachful look, and brushed a tear from her eye. With one last look around the apartment, she locked the door and headed down the stairs to the bustling sound of Fifth Avenue.

 

V.

 

A bitter cold day begins with the muffled beams of sun, filtered through the dark looming clouds of what seems to be an everlasting winter. Sergio gets out of bed and begins to get dressed, first his loosely woven wool pants, then his soft undershirt which he promptly covers with a heavy coat. He then ties his distressed boots, which are worn from the years his father used them for working in the mines. After washing his face with the ice cold tap water, he then walks into the kitchen where he is greeted by the warm scent of his mother’s fresh baked bread accompanied by the redolence of the frying sausage. He begins to walk towards the table where his father is sitting. As he walks he feels a sharp pain in his leg, he then begins to stumble, one last jolt and he falls to the ground but just as he’s about to meet the floor, his eyelids fly open and his head snaps up… he looks around and he is greeted with the miserable realization… he is not home.  Trying to grasp where he is, he notices a man in a white t-shirt and apron. Just as he makes eye contact, he is picked up from the trash pile he was using as his bed for the night, and is thrown onto the street. He stands up, yells a few obscenities directed towards the cook, and begrudgingly starts his day.

He reaches into his pockets in search of his morning pick me up, but no luck. He triple checks every pocket in his jeans and worn jacket, and only finds a couple hundred dollars which he had made the night before. So after discovering the absence of coke and the presence of money, he begins walking to his dealer Tyron’s apartment.

After walking a few blocks, Sergio comes to a staircase leading up into a building which produces an array of  unpleasant sounds, ranging from a baby crying to people arguing. Sergio walks down a faintly lit hallway and knocks on the door of apartment 3F. After about a 15 second pause, a sequence of 3 locks are unfastened, and  with the last one the door is opened revealing Tyron, a 6’5 black man with a fairly intimidating demeanor, one that suits his profession. But as he opens the door his rather rough disposition is somewhat undermined by the large smile that creeps onto his face as he sees Sergio. Sergio and Tyron had been close friends for years; possibly it was discrimination that brought this immigrant and black man together, or maybe it was just Tyron’s coke, who knows.

Sergio walks into the apartment and sitting on the coffee table is a bright colorful glass parrot that sticks out from the surrounding mess. Knowing Tyron isn’t much for home decor he promptly asks “T, what’s with the parrot?”

“You really don’t remember last night, huh?” responded Tyron,

“No, but I don’t see what that’s got to do with the parrot.”

“You bought that last night.”

Sergio pauses as he tried to recall the previous night’s events, but no luck; most of Sergio’s nights were blurs.

“Where did I get it?” Sergio asked.

“Some antique store on 5th, you walked by and saw it in the window.”

“How much was it?”

“Like 5 bucks.”

“Alright I’ll deal with that later. First I got 100 burning a hole in my pocket.”

Tyron promptly goes into his room, coming out with a small dime bag filled with the devil’s baking soda. Sergio then portions out a line around 2 inches long and inhales. He grabs the parrot, says goodbye to Tyron and leaves the building that empties onto the street.

After a few hours of wandering, he comes across a small flea market and, having carried the glass parrot all day, he is eager to unload it. While walking through the market talking with the vendors, a green wing catches his eye. He looks closer and amazingly there is a vendor with a live parrot that looks like an exact copy of his glass decoration. Sergio walks over and says to the owner, “That’s a good lookin’ bird, man.”

The vendor replies, “Thanks.”

“Too bad it’s gonna die,” says Sergio.

The vendor stands up and says, “The hell is that supposed to mean?”

Sergio’s tone is very apologetic as he says, “Nothing, man. I’m just sayin’ it sucks that someday the bird’s gonna die and you won’t have anything to remind you of him.”

“It’s a she and what are you getting at?” replies the vendor.

“What I’m getting at is I have something that can be a permanent reminder of your friend here.” As Sergio says that, he reaches into his backpack and pulls out an identical glass parrot. The vendor, looking confused then slightly intrigued, asks, “Where did you get that?”

“Don’t worry about it, do we have a deal?”

“How much?” asks the vendor.

“30,” replies Sergio.

“Done.”

 

VI.

 

Durkin awkwardly folded the shimmery aqua wrapping paper around the bulbous parrot form. The parrot was a tropical green, made of smooth but solid glass. It was heavy, and about a foot tall. Just the sort of thing Molly would love—impossible to miss. He could imagine her talking to guests now, turning with feigned surprise to look at the glossy green glass—“Oh, that? Goodness, I almost forgot it was there! Why, only the finest French glasswork, I got into quite the bidding war…” He snorted as he imagined the elaborate lies that would be spun around the flea market bargain. Well, it would make her happy…

        With the addition of a cream colored card with Molly written in elegant pen (he’d gotten his friend Geoffrey to write it,) the crinkly lump was ready and stuffed behind the Encyclopedia Britannica on the shelf where he customarily hid his First Date Anniversary gifts. An echoing ding dong. Run hurriedly to the door, swing open, Molly, you look absolutely gorgeous, no really you do, come in and see what I’ve made for dinner you’re going to love it.

        As the single candle between them reached the point where it began to drown in its own melted wax, and Molly’s eyes began to flicker to the oft-neglected bookshelf with an increasing frequency (the tuna-noodle casserole lay half-eaten in the trash,) Durkin was scanning Ebay on his phone. His friend Geoffrey had sent him a link to an ongoing auction, and the going price was seventy dollars. The object being sold? A glass parrot. Molly leaned her elbow on the table and fiddled with her low-dropping crystal earrings that she insisted were diamond. She sought out Durkin’s eyes, but did not receive their attention. Durkin shot up in a movement that jostled the table and hurt his shin rather badly, saying in a rush, “I need to  go use the bathroom.” He fled the room, eyes still glued to his phone. Molly jerked back at the sudden disruption, but recovered a moment later and was soon poking and prodding the various unread volumes on the bookshelf. She retrieved the present and weighed it in her hands, which smelled strongly of sanitizer gel. She flipped open the card and scanned the few lines written there.

        Durkin whispered intently into his cell phone.

        “Are you kidding me? Seventy dollars? The buy-it-now was ninety, and I only paid forty bucks for mine!”

        “You could go for a hundred! Have you given it to her yet?”

        “No, we just finished dinner.”

        “Don’t. Buy her a bracelet, say the store was out of stock or whatever.”

        “Do… You think I should?”

        “Heck, she won’t know the difference. Take the extra cash!” Durkin nodded, his mind made up. He hung up with a final “good luck!” from Geoffrey and made his way back to the kitchen table where Molly sat, beaming, hands folded in her lap.

        “Hey,” he said, sliding back into his seat. “I was thinking we might exchange presents next weekend instead.” Molly stared uncomprehendingly. The candle emitted one last feeble flare then succumbed to the rising levels of hot wax, leaving them in half-darkness. Durkin tried uselessly to relight the wick for a moment, then gave up.

        “I know we always do it on our anniversary, but I just found the perfect necklace—had Geoffrey said bracelet? Didn’t matter— but it’s backordered, and I didn’t want to settle on anything else for you.” Perfect. Molly glanced one final time at the bookshelf, rose with haughty indignance, and swept out the door in such a way so as to ensure it would slam behind her.

        Durkin was, on the whole, dumbfounded. The moment reminded him exactly of the time he had been dozing in math class, and the teacher—a Mr. Hartford—had despicably chosen that moment to call his name. Then, a cold feeling of understanding made his hands begin to sweat; this was Molly. He always kept the present in the same place every year. How long had he been gone? Two minutes? Mentally kicking himself, he found the parrot (in a different position than he had left it, of course) and had it back out of its wrapping and on the kitchen table in a heartbeat.

        Would giving her the parrot now even fix anything? Part of him wanted to grab it and run after her, but the other part—the smarter part—knew that plan of action would lead only to questions that he couldn’t answer without digging himself into a deeper mess. All Molly knew was that he was hiding something, and that it wasn’t a bracelet (no, a necklace.) But she hadn’t actually seen the parrot. The best thing to do was to just get rid of it. He would buy Molly something else, and maybe Geoffrey could help him put together a story to explain things, but the thing to do now was to sell the parrot as soon as possible. He stuffed it under a pile of old laundry so that he wouldn’t have to look at it. He took it back out to take a picture to post on ebay. He put it back under the laundry. Geoffrey texted him.

        Have an eBay account?

Durkin responded quickly.

        No.

        You should make one. Or you can use mine.

        Molly figured it out. She left.

        Oh. A second later, Sucks.

        Ya.

        I’ll send you my username and password.

        I’ll just make my own account.

        You sure?

        Ya.

        Ok.

Durkin pulled up eBay on his phone and made an account. He posted the picture of the green parrot and set the buy-it-now price at $100 dollars. It sold in under an hour. He wondered briefly who could be dumb enough to pay that much for a piece of glass before turning on the news and passing out on his stained grey sofa.

 

VII.

 

The door banged open. Durkin jolted awake in a panic and got his legs tangled in the afghan that was half twisted around him, half on the floor.

        “Hello?” He shouted. “Molly?” Geoffrey breezed around the corner and cocked an eyebrow.

        “Just me. Thought you might need some help.”

        “Oh.”  Durkin sat up and unwound the blanket from himself. “Yeah. I screwed up pretty bad.” Geoffrey slapped his shoulder.

        “Don’t sweat it, everyone makes mistakes. You’ll get the hang of it.” A ray of late morning sunlight flashed off a corner of the parrot’s head poking out from under the laundry. Geoffrey made his way over to it and pulled it out.

        “This it then?” He asked, holding it up to the light and squinting.

        “Uuugh.” With a flop, Durkin quickly undid the little progress he had made towards getting up. “Yeah, that’s it.”

        “Hmmm.” Geoffrey paused with a practiced uncertainty.

        “Something wrong?” Durkin’s voice came, muffled, out of a pillow.

        “Well… It doesn’t quite look like what I thought it would. It’s a little on the small side, which could affect the price. I’ll buy it from you now if you like, as a favor. We can just get it out of here.”

        “I already sold it. Hey man, could you help me write a letter to Molly? Something really sappy. You can churn that stuff out a lot better than I can.”

        “You sold it?”

        “Yeah, last night, sold for a hundred bucks. You know, I’m thinking maybe even a poem wouldn’t be too over the top.”

        After setting the parrot back down, Geoffrey said with an amiable grin, “Of course! I’ll get right on it. Hey, let me know how things work out. Alright?” Another slap on the back.

        “You’re leaving?” Durkin’s voice was drowsy and a little defeated.

        “I have a meeting with an important client. I’ll get back to you with the poem when I can.” His heels clicked on the wooden floor, and he was gone. Outside shriveled brown leaves were congregating on Durkin’s doorstep and pressing up against the door. The empty gray branches of the beech tree outside looked like the bones of a fish carcass, picked clean by seagulls. Durkin looked down instead, and gazed for a while into the parrot’s beady green eye.

 

VIII.

 

Melissa pushed the door of Francesca Maldiva’s mansion open with her foot, holding the key in her teeth. She dropped her load of parcels on the floor and dashed over to the security alarm panel, digging in her pocket for the code her boss had given her earlier that day. She breathed a sigh of relief as the alarm beeped off, and she sank to the cool marble floor, exhausted.

“God, what a day,” she thought to herself, stretching out full length on the cool floor. Melissa was the assistant to the assistant of Francesca, an Oscar-winning actress living in LA. After sitting in traffic for most of the day in her Toyota Corolla wishing she had the time and money to fix the damned AC, Melissa was looking forward to a week of house sitting. “I am so glad I don’t have to deal with Francesca, just her disgustingly opulent digs. . . should be nice to live like a princess for a few days.” She looked around  the foyer, lined with mirrors and large, glossy photos of Francesca with various glitterati. “If they only knew what a bitch she is. . . oh look, there’s that ugly parrot some French aristocrat gave her to honor her Oscar win for Perfume in Paris. What a joke.” She pulled herself to her feet and went over to examine the parrot more closely. It was in remarkably good condition, with the shiny painted black eye looking like it had just been applied. She resisted the temptation to touch the glass figure, thinking that Francesca probably had another alarm triggered to go off if anyone so much as sneezed on the thing.

“Hmm. . . first I’m going to raid the liquor cabinet and then I’ll check out Francesca’s wardrobe. I’ve heard it’s epic.” An hour later found Melissa standing knee-deep in dresses, clutching her third glass of champagne, zipping up the fourth ball gown she had decided to try on. As she zipped up the latest confection, a full-skirted affair in baby blue chiffon, she smiled and imagined herself going to the Oscars after-party with Chris Pine. “I definitely look better in this than that old crow Francesca. But this dress just calls out for some dancing. . . “

She found some matching shoes and pirouetted around the dressing room, craning her neck to see the full effect in the mirror. Not satisfied, she moved through the bedroom and out into the hall overlooking the foyer. “Aha. . . mirrors!” She glided down the staircase, trailing her fingers along the rail, and spun into the middle of the room. She took a swig from the near-empty champagne bottle she’d left on the stairs, and made a deep curtsy toward the door. “Yes, I would be honored to join you for this dance!” She closed her eyes, imagining a full orchestra swelling in a waltz, and spun giddily around the room. The huge bell of the skirt spread wider and wider, her arms delicately tracing an arc to the left, an arc to the right, and — CRASH! She  sailed right into the parrot and sent it flying off its pedestal. “Oh no!” she cried, as she knelt down in front of the spray of glass shards. “Oh no!”

Melissa stared in dismay at the shards of the glass parrot spread on the dining room table. There were a few larger chunks; a piece of the tail and a section of the head with one eye intact. It was 3 a.m. and she was no closer to piecing the creature together than she had been at eleven o’clock. “Oh shit. I’m doomed. Francesca will be back in a week.” Her glance drifted to the screen of her laptop, open to WikiHow’s instructions on repairing ceramics. With her only finger that wasn’t covered in glue, she reached over to shut the computer but hesitated as a pop-up ad flashed on the edge of the screen. Buy ceramics on eBay.  “Hmmm. . .” she thought. “Maybe. . .” She clicked over to eBay and typed in green glass parrot into the search box. Miraculously, an entire pandemonium of parrots flocked to the screen. “YES!” shouted Melissa. She exuberantly bounced over to the sideboard and poured herself another glass of Francesca’s Chateaneuf de Pape. She did a little dance around the table, being extra careful not to swing her arms too much. She’d become acutely aware of the number of breakable items perched on every horizontal surface in the house.

Out of breath, she plopped back into her seat and started looking at the details. The first parrot looked like it was in a bidding war; the price had already skyrocketed to $800. “Too rich for my blood,” she thought, moving down the page. The next bird was offered on a buy it now deal for $250, but it was not the same green as Francesca’s. “C’mon, c’mon,” she breathed. “Yeah!  $89 on a buy it now offer. Let’s see.” She clicked over to shipping and groaned. The figure was being sold by someone in French Polynesia, and the shipping was over $200 by freight. Back on the main page, two more birds had sold for $100 apiece, but the bidding was closed. “Crap!” Melissa slammed her hand down on the table, causing the fragments of green glass to jump and her wine glass to tip over. “Okay, calm down. There are more listings.”  After another fifteen minutes of searching, she finally found one in New York rather than across the ocean. She quickly added it to the cart and clicked on shipping. Regular shipping (allow 30 business days delivery) $45.  Expedited shipping (allow 10-14 business days)  $60 and Federal Express (3-4 business days)  $99. “Oh man, this is going to wipe out my whole bank account. No AC for my car this month.” She completed  the order and breathed a sigh of relief. She sent a copy of the receipt to the printer in the study, but decided to head up and get a little sleep before the sun came up.

In the morning, Melissa had a raging hangover, but cheerfully mixed herself a Bloody Mary while sweeping up the broken parrot and wiping up the spilled wine. She pocketed the chunk with the eye on it as a reminder to be more careful in the future. She moved a placemat over the spot on the table where the wine had started to ruin the finish on the smooth wood. She wandered around the house, straightening up here and there. “I can relax for the week. . . Francesca won’t be back until Friday and the parrot should be here on Thursday.”

The week passed quickly, between Melissa cleaning Francesca’s house and lounging by the pool reading A Game of Thrones. When Thursday arrived, she spent most of the day hovering near the door waiting for the FedEx guy to show up. She did know he usually delivered before lunch because she’d had several conversations with him over the weeks. He was cute in a uniformed-sort of way, so she always made sure she had combed her hair and put on some makeup. Sure enough, she heard his truck roll up at 11:15. She pulled open the door eagerly and ran out into the driveway. He looked down in surprise from his seat, grinning. “You happy to see me? Looks like you’re eager for this package that traveled all the way from the Big Apple! So your name is Melissa?” he hopped out and handed her a box covered with multiple labels marked fragile.

“If you only knew!” Melissa quickly told him the story of the glass parrot as she sat down on the step and ripped open the package. “Thank God! It’s the same parrot!”

“I think it might actually be a lorikeet.”

She carefully turned it around in her hand. “Oh no! Look, There’s no paint on the eye!” She rummaged in her pocket, showing him the chunk of the broken bird. “ What am I going to do now? Francesca is coming home tomorrow and it has to pass as the one I broke!”

“Let me look,” said the FedEx guy, leaning close to peer over her shoulder. “That’s no problem. I paint model airplanes for fun and I have every color of paint you can imagine. Tell you what, you cook me dinner in this fancy mansion and I’ll bring my paints over and we’ll fix it right up. My name is Greg, by the way!”

“Really? You would do that??” She gazed hopefully into his blue eyes. “Okay! It’s a deal!”

“See you tonight, then! I’ll be here about 6:00.” He jumped back into the delivery van, turned around and drove off, waving and giving her a thumbs up.

Melissa spent the rest of the afternoon making her standby recipe, lasagna. She carefully set the dining room table with Francesca’s beautiful china, candlesticks and silverware. She got the audio system primed with a long playlist of cool jazz, and put on her best outfit, a simple black summer dress that emphasized her creamy complexion.

Sure enough, Greg arrived at 6:00. He decided to get the parrot’s eye painted right away, and Melissa leaned over his shoulder as he carefully put on the finishing touches. She was surprised how steady his strong hands were, able to delicately wield the small brush.  “Ta-dah!” he said, getting up and placing it on the pedestal in the hall to dry.

“No one will ever notice there’s anything different about it, if they even bother to look closely,” said Melissa, gazing gratefully into Greg’s eyes. “How am I ever going to thank you?”

“Hmm. . . I have an idea.” He leaned in to kiss her.

The next morning, Melissa rolled over in Francesca’s sumptuous bed and looked over to see Greg sleeping soundly next to her. She thought back to how the glass parrot had led to meeting the nicest guy she’d known in a long time. As she lay back, daydreaming, she heard a car pull up in the driveway, and several car doors slam. “Oh crap! What time is it?? Greg, wake up!!”

The door opened downstairs, and Melissa heard Francesca’s shrill voice. “Melissa, I’m home! Come help with all the luggage right away.”

 

Friday Blog

After discussing in media res in class last week,  this morning we used a prompt for an in class writing exercise that would start us in the middle of things. Here are two we liked:

She dropped the mask and everyone gasped. They hadn’t expected her to actually do it. It was a joke; everyone dared each other to drop their masks all the time but no one actually did it. Until now.
She looked at them, her soft eyes set above purple bags that suggested how tired really was and an indentation from where the mask had sat ran across the bridge of her nose. She pulled the pins from her hair one by one, setting them on the table beside her until a small mountain had accumulated. And then she smiled. Everyone gasped again but this was not out of shock, but awe.
The masks were supposed to make things easier, make everyone beautiful but they had been wrong. This one girl, with an ordinary face and wild hair, was more beautiful than any mask. She was brave and happy, and when she smiled, you could see it. One by one, the others pulled the masks from their faces, pulled the pins from their hair, and then they smiled. And they were so  beautiful.

*********************************************

She dropped the mask and everyone gasped. The mask was porcelain, and heavy. Its glaze was cracked in places and dots of color were just barely visible crowning its brow. When she dropped it, she thought for just a moment how beautiful it was, and how long it must have taken someone to make. She’d promised her mother–promised– that she’d be careful with it. Now that it lay in shards on the floor, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t thinking about what her mother would say. Only about someone’s hands bending the mask into a shape, taking pleasure in its form. And, she remembered a doll she’d had when she was five. Susan had come over, and of course,  sh’d had to show the doll to Susan, who always wore pink skirts and barrettes covered in plastic gemstones. The doll’s face had caved in when it slipped from Susan’s hands, and Susan had just stood there, looking at it.
That was how she felt now. It didn’t matter that the mask was from a rare collection and that her mother had to bend the rules to get it for her for Show and Tell. It didn’t matter that it was worth over a thousand dollars, and was over a thousand years old. when she looked at the split pottery, all she saw was her own five-year-old face, tear-stained, as Susan must have seen it. Somebody had made this mask. Somebody had loved this mask. And it was broken.
The teacher rushed in with a broom and dust pan and tried to salvage what was left. She just stood dumbly in front of the class. The teacher handed her the fragments in a Ziploc bag, and, quietly, she sat down.

Friday Blog

It’s here– the end of the year vocabulary test! We’ve been playing with these words all year and the challenge of retaining 92 new words has been a big one but well worth our time. On Wednesday, in preparation for today’s test, we made groups of words that “felt” like they went together and created stories around them. Here’s one we liked, featuring derelict, saturate, putrescent, dwindle, harpy, lamia, brazen, and eclectic. We called this the “Teen Dystopian Novel” group.

The derelict building might have once been part of a grand estate. It might have once housed important guests visiting a manor house that long before ceased to exist. Or perhaps it was the home of a well to do family, sheltering the sleeping heads of sweet children before the roof collapsed and left the uppermost floor exposed to the elements. Years of rain had saturated the floorboards, leaving them dangerous to walk upon and smelling of the putrescent stench of rotted wood and the decaying bodies of small animals. They must have lived there before we did, turning the attic into their home before dying in their beds. I wonder if we will face the same fate, lying down for another restless night only to reach an even deeper rest than intended. I suppose it is preferable to never returning. We don’t know what happens, or rather, we won’t admit what happens. Instead we turn to the fact, what we know for sure.

There were eleven of us when we found the old house.
Last week there were eight of us.
Marna didn’t return yesterday.
Now there are seven.
It is my turn.

The rations we had managed to collect are rapidly dwindling, although less so now that there are less mouths to feed, so every other day we send someone to go gather what they can from the forest that twist toward the sky.  There are rumours about the creatures that lurk there: harpies, lamias, the- no. Thinking this way doesn’t help. Sometimes when I start to think about them, I turn my thoughts instead to a rebellion. Perhaps it is brazen for me to think that way, but I don’t care. If the people who are supposed to help this world let children disappear and fend for themselves, then I don’t care if my thoughts turn to a war. We may just be an eclectically thrown together group of kids, but we could do something.

Friday Blog

As we do every week, we started today with a free association writing exercise. We’ve been reading about narrator point of view for homework and today the two merged:

The brain. Da mask. Damask. Shakespeare. Now to write using different points of view as the narrator. She continued writing, her pencil moving across the page as the words appeared. (Omniscient narrator.) She felt happy because she found writing from different perspectives interesting. (Not omniscient, intrusive narrator.) Beth was also writing and Cade. They all wrote together. (Limited narrator to a small group.) Although they didn’t know it, everyone else in the world was, at that moment, also writing. (Not limited.) So, my pencil keeps on going like it’s repeating the same words but from different points of view. (First person.) Perhaps you are wondering how much longer I can write about the fact that I am writing. (Second person.) Well, the answer is I can’t because I can’t remember any more points of view except free association and epistolary. This is not a letter, and I already did free association in the beginning. Bye.

Friday Blog

20170505_103128Today’s exercise was to write for three minutes on the question: How did this turtle knickknack get on this windowsill? Here are our responses…

*They had left a window open. One open window, on one house, on this one street. The same street that I happen to be on. It was Fate! I wondered what the people would be like. Will they notice me? I hope they will. Beneath the window is a flowerpot. I can reach the flowerpot. I can reach the window. Looking into the open gap of the window, I met the eyes of a little girl with dark hair and pretty eyes that sparkled like my back. She smiled. I smiled too. She noticed me. I’m going to be so happy here.

*Pamela had always loved sparkles. Ever since she was a child, she’d been obsessed with them. So, when Rachel saw the sparkly glass turtle in the shop window, she knew it would be the perfect present. There were other glass creatures, but turtles were Rachel’s favorite. The small creature seemed to wink at her, saying, “Look at me! Take me home and put me on a desk!” So, with a rush of delight, Rachel did just that.

*With a sickening shatter, the turtle with coppery sparkles was slammed through Rachel’s bedroom window. It was so loud that Lucky (the only one in the house) could hear it, despite being deaf. He bounded up the stairs only to see a figure through the shattered glass on the street below. It was…

*He was once alive and could walk upon the skin of the earth. Back in the time of magic, before science and rationality had shone their light into all the dark corners of the world. In the time before, there were no rules preventing a transparent turtle filled with glittering copper chips from existing, from living. So, he could walk and feel the sun. Now, after the advent of the new world, he remained motionless on the windowsill he had come to rest upon when the laws of physics suddenly became immutable.

Friday Blog

After our Shakespearean vocabulary quiz this morning, we returned to last week’s storytelling and vocabulary in-class exercise.  Here’s one we liked a lot:

The cloud of dandelions perched lightly on the edge of the hill, the, at a strong gust, rose up and was disseminated through the town. The people in the town, especially the children, looked up in awe as the soft white fluff rained down upon them. One child, who had just been informed of magic and could not be convinced it was fake, took this as the final proof needed for magic to exist. In the park, a group of teenagers were playing soccer when they encountered the dandelion fluff. One boy stopped, looked up and kicked his shoes from his feet. He grabbed his friend’s hand and twirled him around. All of their friends laughed and, in turn, took off their own shoes and joined the impromptu festivities. In this way, dancing barefoot became quotidian.

Friday Blog

As we enter the final quarter of the year, we’ve been focusing on reviewing this year’s vocabulary list. So, for a fun Friday morning exercise, we write one sentence featuring a vocabulary word at the top of a sheet of paper,  one on the bottom, then pass the paper and have a second person connect the two sentences.  Here’s one that we liked from this morning:

He gave her a brazen smile and, flexing his muscles, leaped backward off the rock into the lake. She blushed and g;lanced down, both pleased that he would flirt with her and  furious that his arrogant confidence could still induce her cheeks to redden. After they left the lake, his lazy “later, babe” still echoing in her ears, she decided to write down her feelings. Yes, a letter. She would tell him exactly what she thought and he would finally know her, see her. When it came time to find a place to leave the letter for him to find in the rented summer cabin, she became stumped. She found herself staring, trance-like, into the junk drawer. The eclectic jumbling of hairbands, keys, gum wrappers, and coins seemed to contain her personality in a way the letter had not.

Friday Morning Writing Exercises

This week we decided to evolve one of our favorite in-class writing exercises, Exquisite Corpse, into a group storyteller exercise. Each person writes a sentence. Unlike Exquisite Corpse, all of the sentences are visible while the story is written.

Here are a few of our favorites:

The butterfly landed softly on the tip of her outstretched shoe and she froze so as not to disturb it.
“Hello, old friend,” she whispered.
In a croaky, timid voice, the butterfly responded…
“Um… wrong re-incarnation, I think you have the wrong butterfly.”
“I think you’re right, sorry,” she responded.
She missed her friend. She must if she was seeing them everywhere. “Maybe the next butterfly,” she thought as she watched the current one stretch and flutter in the sun.

Solid objects are good for making sculpture, but liquids and gases aren’t.
Who would have thought?!
This is why I vowed to be the first artist to create a sculpture only out of liquid. I’d show them!
I studied the arcane art of magic intently, seeking a way to control the essential nature of liquid.
After many nights and days on the subway or in between shifts at work, I had read through the entire “Book of Liquid Magic” PDF she had printed from the deep web.
Eventually, I realized that, to quote the PDF, “Water doesn’t work that way.”

The eagle’s sharp talons clicked against each other in anticipation.
Its beak, gently turning either way.
The fish glittered like a ripe cherry in the bottom of the pool.
The fish was so beautiful, so the eagle decided to be friends with it.
It was an unlikely friendship for sure, the predator and the prey, but who was to judge something as pure as true friends.
So, the eagle and the cherry-fish rejected all the haters and opened up a detective agency together, solving all sorts of wildlife related crimes.

Chickens are modern dinosaurs. . .

This is a note to a student from Learning Outpost’s science tutor, Dan Wellehan.

Hi Pam and Cade,

I am shocked and saddened. I thought you two should be the first to know. I should have connected the dots long ago, as I’ve known the facts individually for quite some time.

You see, I might not be destined to rise again from the fossil record in a post-human-extinction distant future, resurrected by 6-foot tall cockroaches in lab coats, and populate my own little island of “Anthropocene Park” (or whatever the future-cockroaches will call the attraction in their native tongue. Actually, my money would be on ants or wasps. And in the dinosaur’s time, who would have bet on little rat beasts coming up to dominate life on Earth? But I digress.) In Jurassic Park, as we all know, geneticists and paleontologists tag team the effort to extract dinosaur DNA from the red blood cells in a fat mosquito encased in amber. My own little genetic time capsule, stashed away over 20 years ago in a fat mama mosquito on a spruce tree in the Bigelow Mountains (not too far from the hut by the way!), should be ready for show time whenever the big bugs get here. But I was just watching (for perhaps the 10th time) this great TED talk by paleontologist Jack Horner about his dino DNA hunt, and as he was saying something completely unrelated to me (in fact the entirety of his talk was not related to me), a light bulb went off in my head. You should watch the talk Cade. And yes, though I’m not assigning it to you Pam, it is, in my opinion, well worth watching.

chicks 2
So Horner plainly states one seemingly insurmountable problem in his quest (not to be confused with Michael Crichton’s plot). That is your first homework question: Specifically why has this guy and his team failed to resurrect a Tyrannosaur?

(Now… I am sending you this Sunday afternoon. When is this homework due? I don’t know. BUT I do want to see a completed genetics exam Monday so that we can wrap up that unit and focus on evolution. Genetics will of course inform our study of evolution, but I do not want you (and me) to be further distracted by a bio exam that’s hanging over your head. Slay the beast. Then let’s move on to some fun stuff. And, that first question should land on your lap over the course of the 16 and a half minutes, so it’s not arduous work, but interesting science… according to me.)chicks 1
New more powerful tools are developed, and so one could optimistically suppose that we can eventually find a way around the seemingly insurmountable challenge he highlights with his Tyrannosaur. But even assuming that best case scenario, a second problem with my own brilliant plan deals a near fatal blow. So even if Horner’s team (well, team future-bugs) develop better lab techniques, the odds of my genetic comeback in a distant future just got 1000 times less likely. (Okay, fine: I acknowledge the odds My second question looks further down the road. Inevitably lab techniques improve. weren’t super amazing to begin with, and perhaps, considering the staggeringly slim possibility, with my success at the whim of future bug-society paleontologists, this doesn’t significantly change the odds. But at least I have some plan, right? Albeit, a plan that seems 1/1000 as robust as it did yesterday. (I would like to write here how sad that makes me feel, but then I might sound eerily similar to our president. SAD!) So your second homework question is: What about my (or your) biology makes the Anthropocene Park plan virtually impossible, even if the Jurassic Park plan worked out all the kinks for dinosaurs?

The answer is not obvious. But happily, you do not need to sneak into the Restricted Section of the library to find the answer. It is yours to discover, and just as “What is Fluffy guarding?” took some time to answer, this likely will too. See if you can crack the mystery.

And lastly, for what it’s worth, while Michael Crichton is a fascinating sci-fi author, he has for many years spewed some wildly unscientific “alternative facts” in his personal life. Good writer. Bad policy advocate.

See you Monday with the genetics exam done. And then… Inner Fish? Magic of Reality? This TED Talk or others of Dawkins? We can pick up the conversation in whatever order you choose.

Hasta mañana,

Dan

PS: A third baby dinosaur just hatched today! So cute…

Words, words, words

In writing class this week, we are learning how to organize and present information in a variety of different ways which can then be applied to expository essay structure. So, to practice (and for fun!), we color coded some of our vocabulary words.
Can you guess some of the criteria we used to sort the list? Hint: The 6 different colors correspond to 6 different criteria with completely subjective categories on the left and more objective categories on the right.DSCN1243