Archive | July 2012

At the Voting Booth

On Election Day, Tony stood in line at his local community center. He sipped at a hot coffee from the diner down the street and pulled up the hood on his sweatshirt to keep warm in the chilly morning. If he had been fully awake, he would have noticed something a bit odd about the people standing in line with him and even about the community center.

Tony had never actually been to the community center before. It was located just where he had always thought the Super Clean car wash was. Now, he looked up and down the street and scratched his head. Maybe the car wash was on the next parallel street? It was too early to think. He took a big gulp of coffee and nearly choked on it when he thought he saw a thick blue tail sticking out underneath the trench coat of the man in front of him. The man turned around.

“You ok, buddy?”

Tony blinked. The man was just an ordinary man, no tail, to blue skin of any kind. “Yeah, the coffee just went down the wrong way.” He shook his head. It was too early to be up. He must still be half in dreamland, for the community center seemed to be shimmering in front of his eyes, and just behind the shimmer sat the car wash.

It took about a twenty-minute wait in line before Tony entered the building. He had brought his driver’s license and voter’s card as required. The large woman at the registration desk took a long time finding his name.

“Not one of our usuals,” She said, nodded at his ID and voter’s card. Her hair was so curly and shiny that it looked very much like copper wire––it was copper wire! Again, Tony blinked and saw that she really had soft blond curls. “You’re not on the list, but here’s your ballot. Vote wisely.” She cheerfully handed him a long roll of paper and nodded towards the curtained booths behind her.

“Um…” Tony knew something wasn’t right. “I’m not the list?”

“It’s okay, honey, we can’t keep track of everyone because everyone doesn’t want to be tracked. You see?”

“Not really.” Tony threw his empty coffee cup into a trash can and headed for a booth with his roll of paper. He didn’t remember voting ballots ever being this long. A tall man in a three-piece suit dramatically flung one of the velvet curtains aside. Tony entered the booth and the man flung the curtain back into place. The booth was rather spacious and even had a roof, an actual desk, lamp and velvet-cushioned chair. He sat down and gingerly picked up the fine gold pen that sat on one side of the cherry wood desk. “Here goes.”

He unrolled the long ballot and found it to be made of an odd shiny substance. Tony uncapped the pen and read the first amendment: Amd. 354, 452: The planet NeBon-Bon should be reserved for those with sweet teeth only.

“Huh?” He moved on to the second one: Amd. 789,437: Super power wars shall only be allowed on the third day of the second month of the lunar year on the eighth ring of Saturn. “But Saturn only has seven rings…” The next twelve amendments listed were much in the same vein and total incomprehensible to him. The listing of candidates wasn’t much better. There was a zombie running against a pit bull, a clown running against a ghost and someone named Zooko, a fairy pitted against a warlock, and an alien running for mayor against an android. Tony suddenly had the feeling that he had stepped into a different universe just to vote for his district representative. He was sadly unable to leave the booth until he filled out the entire ballot, which was over six feet long.

Copyright Pixie Beldona, 2010

Bake Sale for the Underprivaleged (On Totalitarianism)

Bake Sale for the Underprivaleged

 The sign read: “Bake Sale for the Underprivaleged.” Noni and Adam stopped to inspect the goodies while the weedy girl dressed in careful shabbiness dropped her arm protectively over an overfull cash box.

“This is soooo great that you’re doing this!” Noni gushed as she bought a brownie. “I mean, it’s, like, so nice to see someone actually doing something!”

“Your sign is spelled wrong.” Adam said as he fished in his pockets for some change. He dropped four quarters into the weedy girl’s hand. “So who is this money going to?”

“It’s for Hepperpot, duh.” The girl said. “They are recovering from a massive earthquake, and people are actually gouging them on food prices.”

“Oh, that’s so awful!” Noni said. “Here, take another dollar!” Adam picked up a peanut butter cookie.

“These look stale.”

“Don’t be rude, Adam, it’s for the poor! This is really, so very awesome…” Noni nodded to the girl as she grasped one of Adam’s backpack straps and pulled him away deeper into the quad.

“Rude? Noni, you think it’s rude to ask where my money is going?” He bit into his cookie and spat out the mouthful. “Ugh. Stale. If these people can’t even make a proper peanut butter cookie, how do they think they can help the poor? There’s more to this than just a bake sale, I’m telling you.”

“Well, on the news the other day they talked about company XYZ…and the earthquake…” Noni trailed off as she bit into her brownie and grimaced. “These are…interesting.”

“As in horrible? I’m no geography major, but I’m pretty sure there’s no country called Hepperpot. I’m getting our money back.”

“No!” Noni held him back. “It’s for the poor, Adam! So they aren’t the best bakers in the world, the money still goes where it’s supposed to!”

“Does it?” Adam shrugged out from under her arm. They both looked back to the bake sale table to find it empty.

 A few weeks later, Noni and Adam strolled through the quad after class. They noticed a large group of students gathered at one end in front of the Anthropology Department. A tall girl dressed in trendy army fatigues shouted platitudes into a microphone while everyone cheered.

“What’s going on?” Adam asked one of the students.

“Aw, get this, man, some American corporation is selling food to the survivors of the Hepperpot earthquake! Selling! It’s, like, so wrong!”

“Like, soooo wrong!” Adam said in the same tone. The student glared at him.

“Ha, see?” Noni pointed at the giant banner scrolled over the school building’s face. “Action for Hepperpot now! It’s a movement!”

“That it sure is,” Adam said with a wink. He nodded to the tall girl with the microphone. “She look familiar to you?”

“Not really…I mean, kinda like that girl from the bake sale last month, but this girl has blond hair, not red.”

“Check out that cash box.” They saw an overflowing guitar case at the microphone girl’s feet. A man in a suit, tie and dark glasses sat on the steps and kept a hand placed on the handle.

“Something’s not right about this.” Adam said.

“But they’re helping––”

“The poor, I know, I get it. Notice they haven’t given any evidence that this corporation is doing what they say. I mean, they could just be lying.”

“It’s a corporation, what more evidence do you need, man?” A student next to them snarled while snapping picture with his cell phone.

“Nice phone,” Adam said, staring at the fruit logo on the back side.

“This is a necessity!” The student scowled.

“Necessity or not, it’s a great product…made by a corporation.” Adam said, stepping back as the student lunged at him.

 Adam woke abruptly to staccato knocking on his door.

“It’s Saturday,” He opened his dorm room to find a worried looking Noni standing in the hallway. “What is it?”

“Adam, you gotta see!” She urged him down the hall to the lounge where a giant television blared the weekend entertainment news. Noni pointed at a tall, elegantly dressed brunette standing confidently next to a popular movie star.

“Hey, that’s…” Adam said. They listened intently to the news reporter.

“Actor Evan EagerBeaver has just set up a foundation to help the world’s poor! If you would like to donate, call the number on the screen. The EEB foundation will help those swept into poverty by recent earthquakes and turmoil in the third world. Evan, how wonderful! Tell us how you came up with the idea!”

“Well…” the handsome actor’s eyes flicked to the woman on his right and then to the screen, “something has to be done. We also plan to sue the corporation that’s been selling food to those in Amnezia.”

“Selling food? How horrible! Those poor people!”

“Yeah, they’re selling water too, if you can believe that. It’s awful, but I am proud to say that the EEB foundation has raised over ten million dollars already to help the world’s poor and put those corporations to shame by giving the poor and homeless food for free for life.”

“Wow, that is so amazing, Evan! Who knew you had such a kind heart?”

“Don’t forget the green projects,” The brunette placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled at the camera.

“Uh, yeah, we plan to invest…a million dollars in new green energy. Once we get all the new floating windmills in place, people will see how awesome they are.”

“Even better!” The reporter cooed. “If only other rich people would follow your example!” She turned to face the camera. “Once again, to donate and help those poor people, call the number on your screen! No amount is too small to feel like you’ve done your part!”

Noni switched off the sound, “It is weird, Adam, that this girl is everywhere with this stuff.”

“Yeah, and they changed the name of the country to another one that doesn’t exist.”

 ◊

Several months later, Adam and Noni sat side by side in Current Events 462 and gaped as their professor told them of a new bill being introduced in Washington DC.

“Well, kids, it’s been a long time in coming, but Nutshell, the force for the poor, has finally gotten a bill into Congress regarding the recent scandal with XYZ corporation and their affiliates selling food and water to the poor! Thanks to this great new bill, XYZ will not be able to charge a dime for their products! It addition to that, the government is looking at a serious overhaul of the corporation and others like it. It is simply inhumane to sell people what they need to survive.” The professor gloated as he clicked to the next screen on his computer presentation. “Here is Congressman Marion Marionette with her aids, all of whom wrote this innovative bill together. The bill itself is over twelve hundred pages long, so they really did their homework…”

Noni and Adam gasped as they saw the weedy woman standing at Marion Marionette’s side. This time she was impeccably dressed in subdued grays and handed Marionette her speech to read.

“Like I said,” Adam whispered, “this is more than bake sales, a whole lot more.”

On Totalitarianism–Security Checkpoint

Security Checkpoint

Some people like to make a point. Such people are the bane of my existence. Yes, I have the unhappy role of working in Airline Security, Inc. I have been doing it for twenty years, but recently I have noticed that people are feeling a bit repressed by all of the safety measures we have in place. Take the other day when I was testing out a Body Scanning Machine Thingy (BSMT). This middle-aged man walks up in a skeleton suit, one of those black, formfitting onezies with a skeleton painted in white on the front and back. The guy thought he was pretty funny. So, yes, these are the things I have to deal with. Mostly I try to humor the customers, because, of course, they go through a lot on an average airplane flight. Then there’s Lola, one of the ‘trying to make a point’ people, and, yes, a Bane! Strikingly beautiful, but nonetheless…

Lola Richardson flies often for her job as a consultant. As to what kind, I had always guessed “hair” because she changes that quite often––different colors, textures, lengths. Actually, the only thing she keeps the same about her appearance are her boots. The first time she came through, one morning on her way to Dallas, I thought that maybe she’d forgotten about having to slip off one’s shoes to send through the scanner. I greeted her with an indulgent smile and asked where she was off to. She flirted and said how she’d never flown from this airport before.

Let me tell you about Lola’s boots: Purple shiny fake leather that goes up to mid-thigh, including all twenty-one crowded sets of lace holes, five-inch heels made of some indestructible material that, although not hazardous, is thus-far unidentifiable. When I ask her as I always do, where she got them, Lola shrugs and says, “I didn’t know you were also the fashion police.” We make this exchange quite often since she comes through security four times a week.

The first time Lola came through, she sent her numerous carry-on boxes and bags down the conveyor belt––each of which seemed to scatter annoying glitter and sequins everywhere (Even now, when I stand in front of the mirror to check the progress of my balding head, I find glitter nestled in the crevices of my face.) and stopped abruptly, causing the line of people in back of her to wobble. Ever so nonchalantly, Lola lifted her right foot up, placing the heel on the conveyor belt. She stretched out, much like a ballerina doing her exercises and undid all twenty-one laces as slowly as possible. We had to open up two new stations just to compensate. Some of her fellow travelers giggled, getting the joke, but most just wanted to make their flights. When she started in on her second boot I asked if she could speed it up a bit. She looked up at me with her fantastic wide brown eyes and said, sweet as honey, “Oh, I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?” Bane. Bane, bane, bane of my existence! The airport would like to ban her, but I tell them that’s only inviting trouble. So yes, we watched her undo her second boot, both of which went through the scanner just fine. Her bags, however, were filled with shampoo bottles, hairspray, suntan lotion, face cream and the like. As we, sadly, threw each bottle away, she pulled out a store receipt and said loudly what each item cost.

“Our liquid carry-on policy is clearly stated on the signs just to your left, the signs as you enter, and the notices on our website.” I hissed, but Lola only arched a perfect brown eyebrow and stared at me. “Yes, and how much safer I do feel. I suppose I’ll get this stuff back on my return flight? Or will you bring your aging girlfriend a new face cream this evening?” After that it was again with the re-lacing of the boots––and this she did much faster, sitting on a bench by herself. She packed away all of her empty bags into another empty bag and clip-clopped off to her gate.

One day, not so long ago, I asked Lola what exactly she was a consultant for.

“Security, of course.” She answered as she handed me her black leather jacket with the zippers and buttons made of gunmetal.

Originally written in 2010.  ––P. Beldona

On Totalitarianism–Mottle Knows Best

Mottle Knows Best

Mrs. Mottle scurried after her neighbor, Rose. Rose stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and turned around with a grimace. “Following me again, Mrs. Mottle?” She put one hand on her hip. “Let me guess, block party meeting this evening?”

“We are a social group.” Mrs. Mottle said, taken aback at Rose’s fierceness. “We get together and talk about the happenings in the neighborhood.”

“Gossips, the lot of you.” Rose tapped her heels impatiently. “I’m due at the office in twenty minutes. If I arrive late and someone else grabs up the spot, I’m blaming you.”

“Me?” Mrs. Mottle’s heart fluttered. “Rose, you are so irritated at me when I’m only trying to help you…for your own good! They may take you away!”

“What?” Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward. “What did you say? What have you been telling the block party, Mrs. Mottle? Only too happy to ‘report,’ aren’t you?”

Mrs. Mottle realized she’d said too much. “N-no, of course not, dear. We’re only here to help! I would never get you…in trouble, but for your own good, it––”

“Then what is it? What did I do this time?”

“Rose, you must understand that I have your best interests at heart. This morning,” She sighed, “Now prepare yourself…this morning your shower was seven minutes.” Mrs. Mottle looked up hopefully only to find Rose staring down at her open-mouthed.

Rose crossed her arms. “And? I’m waiting for the punch line…”

The younger woman laughed shortly. “Oh, Rose, why, you’ve forgotten! The new edict! Now let me see if I remember it straight, ‘all citizens are responsible for their water use. To go beyond the recommended five minutes for a shower is shameful and a waste.’ So you see––”

“Oh, shut up!” Rose pulled her handbag up higher on her shoulder. “What does it matter if I take a seven-minute shower? What does it matter if I take a twenty-minute shower? I’m paying for it! We have entire oceans at our disposal, and, apparently you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy spying on people, it has rained cats and dogs every evening for the last eight days! Oh, and another thing! You think the Higher-Ups really care about these things? You think the block party does? Damn it, Mrs. Mottle! Can’t you see what they’re doing?”

“Of course, Rose, but Practical Science states––”

“Ha! As if PS is ever practical! Or right! One day eggs are good for you, the next they’re bad! Why, I saw an article just the other day on the evils of fruit! Fruit! You know what it is, don’t you? They want us to eat only that dog food for humans they keep manufacturing, while the Higher-Ups feed on steak and wine! Oh, I can’t believe I let you rile me up this early in the morning! Good day, Mrs. Mottle!” Rose tromped off in her heels.

Her neighbor looked sorrowfully after her. Little did Rose know the danger she was in. Two more strikes and she would have to be put in Rehabilitation…for the common good, of course. Mrs. Mottle didn’t like her task, but the important thing was that the laws be kept. Rose was always going off about the “stupid, ridiculous, impractical laws that made real living impossible!” Mrs. Mottle didn’t think that was for them to judge. That was for the Higher-Ups, the people who knew better. She wasn’t sure at that moment why they did know better, but surely they must, as they were in charge. She must inform the party of Rose’s seven-minute shower. The young lady puffed out her chest. They would talk it through. They would come up with a solution and show Rose how her thinking was wrong. It was only a matter of time.

Story originally written in 2010.  –P. Beldona

On Totalitarianism–The Fairest of Them All

The Fairest of Them All

A beautiful child and a malformed child stand before me. The mother of the beautiful child weeps quietly into her long stretch of golden hair while the mother of the ugly child curls her lip. I place my hands on the arms of my golden throne and wait.

“What is it you wish?”

The mother of the malformed child bows to me. “O queen, see the children that stand before you. One is a cherub, full of glowing beauty. She will want for nothing in life.”

I look over at the child as she pats at her mother’s hair.

“Indeed, she will want for nothing. I myself was a beautiful child, and look where I am now, the ruler of a kingdom.”

“Not only a ruler, but a fair ruler.” The ugly child’s mother says.

“What do you ask of me?” I say.

“Make my child beautiful, like that one.”

“Like that one? Exactly like? Wouldn’t you rather want your child to be…more beautiful?” I raise an eyebrow. The mother’s eyes light up and she begins to respond, but my advisor interrupts.

“But that, your majesty, would not be fair.” He offers a sweeping bow.

“No, it would not.” I agree. “Tell me, women, what is the meaning of this request? Am I King Solomon? Am I to cut the child in two to see the truth of the matter?”

“Of course not!” The woman is outraged. “I would never suggest such a thing!”

I sigh, “My dear woman, I cannot make your child beautiful. Not by surgery, not by potion and not by witchcraft.”

“But it isn’t fair your majesty! The other children! They hate my daughter for her ugliness!”

I watch her narrowly, “I have already given my answer. What would you have me do?” Again my advisor steps forward.

“Ah, perhaps, my fair queen, you could make the other child less beautiful?”

“That is a thought,” I say, but the beautiful child’s mother objects, scrubbing away at her tears. “Why do you weep?” I ask.

“My husband and son died in a fire last night, a terrible accident. Please, let me live with my daughter in peace. She is all I have left!”

My advisor and I exchange glances. “You, woman, are you still resolute? You wish me to maim this child hoping that your own child may benefit in the process?”

The woman bows to me, “You are the supreme ruler of all the land. We owe all to you, my queen. I ask that you make things fair for us all.”

“You turn the matter entirely over to me?” I smile, “You don’t wish to come to a conclusion yourself?”

“You have the authority, my queen.”

“Authority you gave me.” I say. “I am beautiful, just like this cherub standing here, this child you so despise. And you trust my authority, do you?” The woman nods. “How do you know the fault is not with your own child for being so…ugly? Maybe it is she who is to blame.”

“Surely not!” The mother stamps her foot. “And in any case, you cannot make her beautiful, as you said.”

“I cannot make her outwardly beautiful, but allow her to stay with me for awhile and we will cultivate her inner soul and it will so fine that all the young men––”

“No!” The woman interrupts. “No! Young men only see with their eyes! They will not stop a moment to see into my daughter’s soul! They will trample her on the way to the great beauty’s side!”

“And so you will have me maim this beauty?”

“Yes! I wish for her to be as ugly as my own daughter! If they are both ugly the young men will not prefer one over the other!”

“Indeed the young men may pay them no attention at all,” My advisor says dryly.

I ask the malformed child’s mother if she is certain. The beautiful child’s mother clings to her daughter, looking on in desperation. The woman declares that nothing will do but fairness. I fold my hands and ask the beautiful child to step forward. My advisor tells the guards to hold her mother back.

“Compose yourself, mother.” I order her and look to the child. “Come here.” Trembling, the child steps forward.

“She is beautiful enough to sprout wings!” A nobleman near me gasps. “Do not do this, my queen! Such a pity!”

“Such a pity for your eyes, you mean.” I say sourly. “Now, child, this will only hurt for a moment.” I raise my right hand and put one long, sharp fingernail to the child’s blooming cheek. Quickly and carefully, I make one clean cut on her skin and release the child to her mother who covers the cut with her hair, then her cloak, then her tears. “There. It is done,” I say.

The ugly child’s mother gasps, outraged. “That was nothing! That will heal in a week! My child––”

“Guards go at once to this woman’s home and bring both her husband and son to me. They shall be hung on the gallows at dawn. Tell them that in all fairness to their beautiful neighbor they must be extinguished!”

“What? No, no! My queen, no!” The ugly child’s mother shouts.

“My dear woman, what are you so upset about?”

“You cannot kill my husband and son!”

“Why not?” I laugh. “You gave me authority to do so!  It isn’t fair for your daughter to have a father and brother while this newly scarred child has none.”

“B-but! I only wanted you to harm her!” She points at the beautiful child whimpering into her mother’s embrace. Again I exchange a glance with my advisor.

“Give me authority to harm another and you give me authority to harm yourself.” I say. We wait for the guards and when they return I say to the woman, “Pay your last respects.”

“I beg of you, please, let my family live!” The woman drops to her knees. “I am sorry! I am so sorry that I ever came to you in the first place!”

“You don’t want me to be fair?” I ask.

“No, no, please no!”

“And what about you?” I ask the beautiful child’s mother whose tears are beginning to dry.

“Please, leave the matter be.” The mother says.

“As ruler, I cannot.” I say.  I look down to the woman groveling at my feet. “Get up. Your husband and son may live.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, my queen!”

“They may live, but not with you.” I step forward. “You have asked that I commit great evil on your behalf. This I cannot let you forget. Therefore, as supreme ruler, I declare your marriage to this man to be dissolved. Husband,” I indicate the beautiful child’s mother, “meet your new wife. She is a widow in need of looking after.  Child,” I look down at the ugly child. “meet your new family. I hope that you may learn to appreciate beauty, rather than to be jealous of it.”

The beautiful child’s mother pulls the ugly child into her embrace. The husband and son regard their former wife and mother with suspicion.

“What did you do?” They ask before joining hands with their new family.

I look down at the woman now motionless at my feet. She raises her head.

“Do you have no forgiveness in you?”

“Forgiveness?” I say, “But that is not what you wanted. No, my dear woman, you wanted fairness. The beautiful child is marred and now both children, beautiful and ugly have a complete family who will care for them and love them for who they are.”

“But what am I to do!”

“In all fairness I should do you harm for wanting to harm another,” I say, “but as I do rather favor forgiveness, I shall let you live in the hope that you will come to repent of your wicked ways.”

“Truly, queen,” My advisor says, “you are the fairest of them all.”

On Totalitarianism–It Is Right

It Is Right

It is right. It is right that Pretty should work and that I should not. She is younger after all, and I have my aching feet, my fatigue, and the days I can barely get out of bed.

“Pretty!” I shout from my sunk-in cushion on the living room couch. “Pretty! I am hungry! Where is my supper, o sister?” It is right that she should wait on me, her elder. I call and cry but no one comes. Now I am both hungry and angry. Why is Pretty being so slow? How can she be so mean as to make me wait to eat?
 I get up and walk to the kitchen. No one is there. Pretty is not in her bedroom either, but I find her in the bathroom, wiping at her face.

“Are you sick, Pretty?”

“Yes.”

“Where is my supper?” I moan. “My stomach hurts and I feel weak and dizzy! I will surely faint if I don’t eat something!” Pretty looks at me steadily.

“You will have to make do.” She says. “I need to rest.” My first thought is to stamp my foot and demand that she cook the supper, but I in all my long years have learned better ways.

“Yes, Pretty. Of course you should rest. I will––I w-will fix myself a peanut b-butter and jelly sandwich!”

Once in the kitchen, I know what to do. I bumble and stumble around, spoiling and breaking dishes that she will have to clean up later. Her abandonment does not come without a price. I always make sure of that. “Pretty, oh, Pretty! I can’t find the bread! Where is it? Where is it!”

“Near the microwave on the counter.” She croaks from her room.

“But which counter? There are too many! I––I don’t see it, P-pretty! I can’t do this!” I weep and throw our parents’ wedding platter to the floor where it smashes satisfactorily. She will come. It takes exactly two minutes.

Calmly, my younger sister walks into the kitchen. She would first like a glass of water, but I insist on the sandwich. She points to the bread bin. I grant her this small concession and take the bread out of the container, rip the bag apart and spill all but two slices on the floor. Pretty does not pick them up.

“Where is the peanut butter?” Pretty is about to say something, but thinks better of it. She goes to the cupboard, pulls out the jar, and hands it to me. Then, Pretty quietly picks up the bread slices from the floor and tidies up the kitchen. I look at her shrewdly. “I have no knife. Am I to use my finger to spread the butter, little sister?”

Pretty pulls open a drawer and takes out a butter knife. Very nearly knocking me over, she edges me aside so that she herself can spread a thick layer of peanut butter on the bread. “Anything else I can do for you, dear sister?” She asks.

“Where is the jelly?” I watch while she crosses to the fridge, stopping for a moment as a wave of nausea overcomes her. “What’s taking so long?” She looks everywhere: no jelly in the fridge, no jelly in the cupboards. “I have to have jelly!” I yell. “I’m hungry!”

On the way to the store I keep the bread and peanut butter in my purse and munch on it while Pretty is not looking. Her driving is terrible and I yell at her that isn’t my heart weak enough without adding to the trauma? In the store, Pretty looks even worse. Her skin is an appalling shade and she weaves back and forth as she walks. I yell at her to come and hold me up, but really it is I who hold her up. A twinge of fear pulls at me.

“Perhaps, Pretty, the jelly is not so very important.”

“No, no,” She says. “You must have what you want, older sister, or you say you will suffer. Don’t you want the jelly?”

I feel as if I am losing my footing.

“Y-yes, but, perhaps…let us rest on this bench.”

My sister puts a hand to her throat. I sit her down and she slouches against a row of tomato soup cans.

A strange sentence works its way out of my mouth: “Maybe…maybe I could go retrieve the jelly…while you wait here.” Pretty is perfectly in agreement with that suggestion, and I notice upon returning that the color has come back into her cheeks. I do not mistake the feverish gleam in her eyes. With fear now clawing at my throat, I help her to her feet.

“What a good and helpful sister you are,” She murmurs.

“I think, Pretty,” I say as I help her into the passenger car seat, “that as you are unwell, it is only right that I watch over you this night.”

Modified from a story I wrote in 2010.  ––Pixie Beldona

Romeo + Juliet stands the test of time.

After reading a letdown of a book purporting to be in relation to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” I felt I had to re-watch Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrman to cleanse my mind of poor attempts at romance, setting, and most importantly, emotion. Say what you want about Baz (Somehow calling him “Mr. Luhrman” just seems wrong), but he, like “the Bard” understands entertainment. His movies might not be to everyone’s taste, but they are certainly not boring and have no problem in embracing witty, if sometimes bawdy, humor.

 At the time it was released, Romeo + Juliet was a revelation. No one had attempted and succeeded at translating a Shakespearean play, and especially the actual wording, into something that an average modern audience member could understand. Many attempts have been made to bring other Shakespearean plays up to date, but most were laughable at best and boring at worst. Even the ones I liked, such as O starring Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett, weren’t inspiring enough that I would ever want to watch them again. A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Kevin Kline is a nice gem of a film, but it’s not terribly “modern” in its approach to the story. I have seen stage plays far better. Romeo + Juliet is a rare film in that it is something that people, especially young adults at the time, wanted––and still want––to watch.

 After re-watching Romeo + Juliet this week, I find that it is just as good today as it was in 1996. Baz’s Moulin Rouge and Australia are cringeworthy in comparison––and I like both of those movies! The remarkable thing is, the language works in the frenetic pseudo-Los Angeles/Latin American setting. It isn’t so odd that the characters refer to their guns as their “swords” and why people run entirely by emotion speak poetically and epically. A gang fight isn’t just a fight, it’s the honor of each family running simultaneously back to “let there be light” and forward into the moon turning to blood and stars falling from the sky. The language absolutely works.

 Baz’s genius is his theatricality, something he shares with Shakespeare. Even if one cannot fully grasp the often difficult Elizabethan wording, one can still grasp the gist of the plot, due to the bold visuals and unsubtle acting.  Much like Bollywood movies, this style appeals to the masses, helping them to appreciate classical works even if they have little to no education.

 What I like best:

  •  Romeo and Juliet look their age.
  • Their relationship is romantic, but in a rash, youthful way.
  • Though they have stars in their eyes, both R and J sense clearly that they may be the demise of each other. They are deep thinkers, though their focus is inward on self, not outward towards the world around them.
  • Mercutio rocks! He was always my favorite character, but he’s extremely attractive in this version (played by Harold Perrineau, LOST) and admirable in his care for Romeo’s honor. He’s the classic class clown who appears to care only about having fun, but in reality cares deeply about his friends and about honor.
  • Romeo and his buddies seem like believable young men. They constantly tease each other, get into fights, make fun of their elders, and cause trouble, repent for two seconds at a time, and begin all over again.
  • Father Laurence. Pete Postlethwaite (The Last of the Mohicans, The Usual Suspects) was perfect for this role. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Father Laurence in this particular version. He was believable in both the Hawaiian shirt and the priestly attire, and especially, as friend and confidante to both Romeo and Juliet. Postlethwaite had a wise yet youthful quality about him.
  • The nurse. Miriam Margolyes is one of those talents that excels in smaller secondary roles. She has been in numerous products including multiple Shakespeare and Dickens adaptations, as well as more modern adaptations, such as the Harry Potter films. Her portrayal of the nurse is both comical and sympathetic. She takes what her employers dish out to her with the stride of a person totally comfortable with who they are.
  • The ending, the ending, the ending!! So perfectly done that even though one is 100% certain that title characters are going to die, the last scenes still put the audience on the edge of their seats wondering if the two lovers will actually ride off into the sunset. It makes the tragic end more exhilarating rather than sorrowful and one can’t help agreeing with the police captain (Vondie Curtis-Hall) that “all are punished,” and punished appropriately. The consequences of such a lifestyle as these characters lead can only be an early death, or the early death of their loved ones.

Onto another great Shakespeare adaptation, and possibly my favorite: Much Ado About Nothing (1993) directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh.