Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Dance for Daniella by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – Stella

Daniella rested her heel on the footboard of the bed.  It wasn’t quite as high as a bar, but still allowed her to feel the stretch in her muscles as she leaned over, laying her body across the length of her leg.  Her hair fell over the top of her head and brushed back and forth across her knee as she went through the movements that would awaken her muscles and prepare her for the day.

In her mind, Daniella tried to push her doubts into the farthest corner but they kept dancing back out like mischievous children, pulling at her consciousness, teasing her nerves and taunting her rational thoughts.  “Stop!” she exclaimed in a harried whisper.  No point in yelling and waking up the entire house with her anxious musings. 

Her mother would try to comfort her with empty praise and her siblings would roll their eyes.  “There goes the diva, demanding all the attention again.”  Even when they didn’t say it out loud, she knew it ran through their brains whenever they thought she was asking for too much.

She wondered if she really was just a diva.  She didn’t feel like one.  She never felt like she asked for a lot of attention either.  Certainly not as much as Corey with his problems in school, or Phaedra always sneaking to hang out with her friends and chase boys. 

Daniella tried to do what was right.  Worked at getting good grades in school, kept to herself, and danced.  Of course, it was really all about the dance.  The other stuff, school, friends, those were the things she had to do.  Dancing was for her.  But whatever she did, school, or dance, she was determined to do it well and sometimes, when she was afraid she wasn’t good enough, she needed reassurance.

That’s when Phaedra and Corey would roll their eyes and accuse her of manufacturing her doubts and insecurities to get attention. “You know you’re good enough, stop trying to get mom to say it. “  They complained that she set the bar too high and they couldn’t live up to the expectations everyone had because of her.

“Forget them,” Daniella whispered again, and pushed her sibling from her thoughts.  They had nothing to do with her fears, her challenges, the things she knew she had to overcome.  Today, there was only one person worth thinking about.  Madame Stella.

She was the one who could decide her future as a dancer.  She was the one who would push her body to its limits and then ask for more.  She was the only person Daniella needed to think about impressing. 

The fear started creeping up the back of Daniella’s neck again, a tight, tingling sensation that threatened to paralyze her.  Quickly, she brought her leg down from the footboard, grabbed her small, ipod off her nightstand and clipped it to the front of her leotard.  She put the headphones in her ears and instantly, she was awash in music.  She felt the notes flooding through her veins, filling her body and pushing back fear, anxiety, anger, love, hate…there was no emotion, no thought, just music and movement, just dance. 

Daniella whirled and spun in the small space in her room.  Each and every movement was measured and controlled. Even when she was lost in the music, her body remembered the discipline it had been subjected to every day for a lifetime.  Each and every muscle, knew it’s purpose and place and they all responded for her, sometimes before she even realized what she was asking them to do. 

This dance, this ability to rely on her body and lose herself in the music.  This feel of being immersed and filled, of being in control yet completely lost in abandon all at once – this was what life was about.  There were no siblings here.  There were no well-intentioned, but thoughtless mothers here.  There were no boring teachers or dense classmates, or sweet but directionless friends.  This place was all there was.  To dance and to feel and to reach and to fly.

Daniella let herself fall onto the bed, feeling the springs give way and the covers fly up around her in puffs of air.  She stayed there for a moment, stretched out, counting her breaths as they rose and fell, feeling little beads of sweat roll down her temples and the sides of her body. This was peace and for this moment she didn’t care what her siblings thought, or even what Madame Stella thought.  For this moment she knew that no matter what happened, she would always dance.

Daniella, rose from the bed and went to go take a shower.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Prayer by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – Spring/Hope

Jasmine shifted her body, trying to find a comfortable position in the few moments she had before pain rolled through her again.  She felt the springs of the bed sag and heard their creak as her swollen belly rolled into a dip in the sagging mattress.  It was better on her side, she immediately felt the pressure on her hips relieved. She let her head fall back on the pillow and her eyes closed.

She felt a cool cloth move across her brow as a hand gently, lovingly, pushed the hair from her face.  Jasmine opened her eyes and looked directly into ones that were so like her own, she could have been looking in a mirror.

“Mama,” she whispered.  But the older woman shook her head and put her finger to her lips.  She stroked Jasmine’s hair and made quiet shushing noises until Jasmine relaxed and closed her eyes again.  She almost felt as though she could drift off to sleep.

Then she felt the gentle tightening in her belly and she knew it was coming.  She tried to focus on what was happening, to study it so that she wouldn’t become panicked and give in to fear of the pain.  She knew how it worked now.  The slight tightening just above her pubic bone, that would grow and spread – around her back, over her rib cage, back to the front and down across her protruding stomach.  Pulling and pushing at the same time, tighter, harder, and hot, like a spreading fire as it consumed not just her belly, but her whole body, until she could feel the contraction even in the top of her head, in the back of her neck, across her shoulders and out to the very tips of her fingers.  And then, like a wave, crashing upon the shore, it would recede, leaving her spent and sweating, and breathing hard.

She flopped back on the pillow, and felt the cool cloth on her brow again.  She opened her eyes and smiled up at her mother, who smiled at her, loving and caring, but there was worry in her eyes and sadness too.

“Mama, don’t worry.  It will be what it is.”

Jasmine watched her mother purse her lips, holding them tight as though they could hold back the tears that were welling up in her eyes.  Jasmine reached up, trying to touch her mother’s face, but her mother shook her head, brushed her hand away and ran from the room.

She knew where her mother was going.  She would sit in the other room for a while, praying to God and every saint she could think of, hoping that the baby would be a boy.  A boy, who would someday leave the life they were trapped in.  A boy to break the cycle of shuttered windows, dirty beds, smelly men, and birth.  A boy who would have no choice but to leave this world, this house, maybe even this land.

Jasmine understood her mother’s wishes, but she feared them as well.  A boy would leave her and maybe he would not find a better life.  Maybe he would be killed, or hurt.  Maybe his life would be worse than what they had here.  They had food, and shelter and a place to sleep – and sometimes the price of all that didn’t seem so much to pay.  At least they were mostly safe.  A boy would never know safety, would always have to fight.  A girl could just…be here.  Safe.  She didn’t know what was better – danger and hope, or safety and resignation.

Suddenly, there was no time to think.  Another wave took her body, and this one was followed closely by yet another and another.  She was so immersed in the waves, riding them, sliding under them, drowning and rising again, that she did not know when her mother came back. 

She only knew that when she made that final push and felt the relief of releasing her child into the world, that it was her mother’s hands she felt on her brow again.  It was her mother’s eyes she looked into when she opened her own.  Her mother’s face swam above her as she felt the baby at her breast, first nuzzling then suckling.  It was her mother’s tears that fell on her cheek as she drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gone by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – Judith Is Gone

Idra sat in a chair, her computer on her lap, her feet resting on the edge of the bed.  She was tired, so very tired.  She had cried, screamed, she had even thrown up in the small, cramped bathroom down the hall – listening to people pound on the door as they demand access to the room.  Cold, sweat had rolled down her forehead and over the back of her neck, soaking her hair and the thin t-shirt she wore as she retched over and over. And even after her body stopped convulsing, she stayed there, breathing the sour smell of her own vomit, because her legs were too weak to push her to her feet.

Now, finally back in her room she still felt the tight emptiness in her stomach, her skin still tingled coolly even though she knew the temperature had to be close to a hundred.  She stared blankly at the computer screen, trying to make sense of all that had happened – of all that she had seen.  The problem was, every time she started to go over the events of the day in her head, every time her brain got close to the memories of what happened, she would hear something, or see something that would pull her out of it.  Was that a scratching noise against her door?  Furtive footsteps in the hall?  A shadow passing across her window? 

Would someone come for her? Would they know she had seen?  Were they on their way to silence the memories she wasn’t even sure she wanted to reveal to herself?  There were so many questions, so many fears and no answers, and no one to turn to for guidance.  

Idra let her head fall back on the chair, and she stared up at the ceiling, noticing that there was a huge water stain, surrounded by cracked and peeling paint in the corner between the door and the window.

“What am I doing here?  Why did I come?” She beat herself up with these new questions.  Once her reasons for coming to this country had seemed so valid.  She had been so passionate about her purpose when she arrived…but now it all seemed so futile and her determination was overwhelmed by the stark reality of the dangerous situation she had voluntarily walked into.

She squeezed her eyes shut and muttered to herself, “Pull it together. Pull it together NOW!”  She pushed herself into a more upright position, let her feet fall from the bed and turned to the small, beat up table she had been using as a desk.  She placed her laptop on the table and began to focus on it intently. 

Everything on her computer was automatically uploaded to a server in her home, and another internet server, whenever she had access to a connection.  Somehow, even in her mental haze she had forced herself to wander past a cafĂ© with wifi before she came back to her room.  Everything on her computer was backed up.  She systematically went to work at deleting all her files – making certain they were completely wiped off the hard drive.  When she was done, she felt a small amount of relief.  She had nothing to make anyone question her.  She could deny anything - everything.  She was just a tourist.  Just visiting.  On her way home.

Idra picked up her phone and checked her calendar.  Her flight was in 12 hours.  Just 12 more hours to stay quiet.  12 more hours to stay out of sight.  12 more hours until she could feel safe again.  12 more hours until she could return and tell every one where Judith had gone. 

She lowered her head and took a deep breath that turned into a yawn.  Suddenly she was tired.  So very tired.  Maybe she could sleep and when she woke up, it would be time to go to the airport.  She set the alarm on her phone, stood up from the chair and climbed onto the bed.

But the moment her head hit the pillow, Idra began to see unwanted images flashing against her closed eyelids.  A beautiful round face, blood, pavement, and she heard again the people yelling, the banging, the screams. 


Idra sat up in the bed as she yelled out.  Immediately she clapped her hand over her mouth, held her breath and looked around.  Did someone hear?  Would someone come?  She began to shake, and then to cry.  Silent sobs wracked her body for long minutes until finally she collapsed back against the pillows again.

This time her body was ready.  There were no more horrible images, no memories, just exhaustion, just the empty crash after an emotional release, and the peaceful blackness of sleep closed over her.

As she finally drifted in to complete unconsciousness, there was a knock on the door.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Day by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s drawing – The Foot

Lisha stretched in the early morning light.   Her arms slid along the length of the bed under her pillow and past the bars of the wrought iron headboard.  Her legs extended along the cool expanse of white cotton sheets.  One foot pushed into the white duvet cover that was part the tangle of blankets and she pushed it off the edge of the bed. 

Once she was fully stretched out she spread her arms and legs wide and reveled in the freedom of an empty bed.  She was an affectionate person, and generally loved the warm little bundles of her children’s bodies curled against her for comfort.  And once, she had more than enjoyed having the body of her husband there beside her. 

She had loved the weight of his muscular frame making an indentation in the mattress that would cause her body to roll close to him.   She had loved the warmth of his body, and the soft, rumble of his breathing as he slept.  She had enjoyed resting her head on his chest, the sparse strands of hair, tickling her cheek.  She loved the weight of his arm resting on the curve of her waist.

But now, she relished in his absence, possibly more than she’d ever enjoyed his presence.  The unrestricted freedom to move without thought across the bed, or through life, was a luxury she had forgotten was something to enjoy. The rediscovery of who she was without anyone else to measure herself against was almost intoxicating.

She rolled onto her stomach and smushed her face into the smooth, white cotton pillow – wrapped her arms around the pillow and pulled it down close to her chest, hugging it.  She was so comfortable, so at ease in her solitude that she almost drifted back to sleep – but she was too energized, too excited to wait  any longer.

She stretched again, then rolled over, extending her legs out over the edge of the bed. Then letting first one foot and then the other touch the floor, she started her day.

Grandma's Hands by Julie Atwell Inspired by Karen Kaapcke’s painting – The Hand

Imelda let her head sink into the pillow. The cotton case on it was cool, and a little rough. She liked the way it scratched against her cheek. She closed her eyes and tried to drift off to sleep, wakefulness stuck to her like cotton candy to her fingers after a day at the fair.

She opened her eyes and looked around the room. She wasn’t afraid of the dark. She knew a lot of kids her age were, but she wasn’t, never had been as far as she could remember. The dark was a place where there was quiet, and peacefulness – a place where she could imagine. She liked the faint blue light, a combination of moonlight and streetlight that filtered through the sheer white curtains and made soft, long shadows along the walls.

The night, the cool, blue dark had it’s own smell. Clean, and light. She often pretended she was floating just above her bed on a light stream of night mist. She liked the night. That was the problem though – the night felt good, but the night was also a time to sleep and if she didn’t fall asleep soon, the morning would be harder than it already was.

Imelda never much liked the morning with it’s bright light and ever increasing sound. No matter how early she woke up, no matter how quiet is was when she woke, sooner or later the sounds would come – getting louder and louder as more people started their day.

Sometimes, rarely, it was fun, listening to the sounds appear. First the birds chirping, then a car starting, a garbage truck rolling up and the grind of its motors as it crushed the remains of people’s everyday lives. Steps overhead in the apartment above, uneven and staggering as someone made their way into the bathroom – the creaking pipes indicating the flush of a toilet and a shower turning on. Sooner or later, the footsteps of people passing under her window would start and become more prevalent as people exited the building on their way into lives she could barely imagine.

During those moments she would think about people all over the world doing things, sleeping, waking, singing, crying, living - so far away and disconnected, and yet connected too by the fact that they were all alive and doing something all at the same time.

But this night, she knew she needed to sleep and it wouldn’t come. She had a spelling quiz in the morning and if she didn’t sleep, she would find herself staring at the paper thinking of people in far away places rather than remembering that the i came before the e in believe. There would be another note home from her teacher to her mother – asking what they could do about the fact that a girl as smart as Imelda wasted so much time daydreaming instead of doing the work they all knew she could do.

Then the test would come back with a red circle around a word or two and what would have been a perfect 100% would be a 95 or a 90 and she could already hear Grandma saying, “That’s nice, baby. But why couldn’t you get a 100.”

Grandma – Imelda latched on to the comforting thought of her grandmother. Most of the time, Grandma wasn’t complaining about test scores. Most of the time Grandma was comforting and loving and warm, making the coldness of the world melt away.

Grandma was crisp cotton housecoats and thin wisps of gray hair, wound into tight little buns. Grandma was soft, papery skin that smelled like powder and liniment and a warm, squishy body to relax into. Grandma’s arms would wrap around her body, pulling Imelda’s arms close against her chest and Imelda would curl into a ball and lavish in the warmth and love that radiated over her. Grandma’s hands, bony and fleshy at once, would smooth back Imelda’s hair and Imelda would reach up and grab one of Grandma’s hands to hold it against her cheek and then to push it away and rub it between her own fingers. 

Imelda loved the feel of Grandma’s hands. Loved to trace the bones, to push the loose, delicate skin around and feel it slide back and forth. Her favorite thing about Grandma’s hands were the veins. Bluish-green and puffy under the skin – making a map with twists and turns that could be pushed and rubbed, but always kept their shape. 

Imelda lay in her bed, thinking of Grandma’s hands. In her mind she ran her fingers methodically over the veins, leaving a little redness on the skin. She felt the softness of the skin, smelled the sweet gentle warmth of grandma’s breath on her face and slowly, finally, Imelda drifted off to sleep.