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Yarns
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October

The Weekly Yarns

October 2023

Emboldened by the resounding success of The Daily Verse, we have started The Weekly Yarns, where we upload stories, flash fiction, anecdotes and musings of writers. If you have a story to share, please send it to editor@thewiseowl.art

Week 4, October 2023

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Image by Hide Obara

Snow Angels

By Ben Coppin

The village was wholly unprepared one winter when six feet of snow fell.

At first, we all stayed in our homes and made do with what we had, but before too long that natural human desire to connect took over and we began to dig trenches and tunnels through the snow to reach each other. It took us about five days to complete a basic system that allowed every inhabitant of the village to reach the town-hall. And there we gathered, one cold white Tuesday in November.

 

“We need a leader,” someone said. And so a village leader was selected.

“And we need someone to keep track of food,” someone else said. “To make sure everyone has enough.” And for reasons I never understood, they chose me. Perhaps it was because I lived close to the town hall, and the town hall was the obvious place to store the food. Whatever the reason, I became the ration master, and I took my job seriously. If we were to survive our entombment, we’d need to be careful with our food. We had no idea when the snow would melt, but we decided to assume that it might be as long as six weeks before we’d be able to make contact with anyone outside the village, anyone that might be able to replenish our stores.

My wife was not pleased when I told her. “You have enough to do,” she said, “looking after this family. Someone else should do it.”

“Rather me than Swenson,” I told her. “You know he’s the only other choice they might have made, and you also know how that would have ended up.”

I gave her a meaningful look. She stared back at me for a moment before making up her mind.

“You’re right, husband,” she said finally. “That would have been worse, to have that thief in charge of the food.”

“He isn’t a thief,” I reminded her. “He’s an embezzler. He stole money that he was supposed to be looking after for others. It’s a worse sin.”

The children had a wild time, those first few weeks. Snowball fights, igloos and snow angels. But soon we decided that they should be being taught, not playing. So we widened the trench that led to the small school and convinced the teacher to return to work. She wasn’t reluctant, particularly, but she was tired. We all were. The cold, the sparse calories our rations afforded us and the uncertainty: these, taken all together, formed a malaise in us all—a lethargy that was hard to shake.

It was different for me, though. I had my family to think of, and work to do. And that kept me insulated from the ennui.

Each morning I’d rise at five, trudge through a dark tunnel to the town hall, open it up with the huge bronze key that I kept in my bedside drawer, and get to work. I’d start, most days, by taking inventory. Some optimistic part of me hoped I’d discover some new, previously unnoticed food, hiding in a corner somewhere. Perhaps someone had found a long-forgotten stash of herbs and brought it overnight. But such discoveries were rare and getting rarer by the week.

Once I’d finished my inventory, I’d prepare for the day’s allocations. The village had forty houses, forty families. Each adult was allotted a thousand calories per day, and each child eight hundred. It wasn’t enough—we knew that—but we also knew we had no choice.

Of course, it wasn’t always easy to be precise with the calories. Tins and packets were labelled, but when you divided up a can of peaches into eight portions, it was near impossible to be sure how many calories you were providing to each. So, there’d be small errors, but the village trusted me enough not to worry too much about those. And in other cases, where food wasn’t labelled with calories at all, I had to make my own judgement. So, there’d be large errors too. But I did my best to be fair, within reason.

The first death came on a Sunday. He was old, lived alone. His neighbour said he’d been unwell for a while. When his house was searched, we found a few hundred thousand calories of food. Stupid man had died of starvation, surrounded by food.

After that, I knew what I needed to do. It wasn’t really a choice: it was a necessity. I had a responsibility to the village, for sure, but I had a greater responsibility to my family. As December turned to January with still no sign of the snow melting, I was keeping aside spare calories each day for my wife and my children. Not too many, just a few hundred.

And as January wore on, I knew, with a clarity I’d rarely experienced before, that I needed to prioritise looking after my own health, for the sake of my family. If I were to get weak or die, I’d be replaced by someone who would not put my family’s need first. So, I began to keep back food for myself.

When Swenson’s younger daughter died, my wife wouldn’t look me in the eye. The embezzler himself had died two weeks before his daughter: he’d been sharing his calories with his family and starved all the quicker for it.

But my family too was starving by the time the thermometer finally rose above zero and the first droplets began to fall from the village roofs. The other villagers had passed on, one by one, but we still had enough cans to last us, my family and I, a week or two longer, perhaps.

And so it was that when the rescuers finally reached us, there in the depths of the wet grey countryside, they found thirty-nine silent houses and one gaunt family. And I was proud of what I had done. Proud and happy that it was my family, not that thief Swenson’s, that had made it through the winter.

Week 3, October 2023

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Chili Bowl

Mrs Hauser's Chili

By Richard Lutman

For the weekend at the Men’s Co-op, Mrs. Hauser, our cook, left us a large pot of chili for supper. You could tell her mood by how hot the chili was going to be. We knew she didn't like to lose at bingo, drank a lot, had man trouble, or sometimes just woke up in a bad mood. Two engineering students tried to correlate the specific event to the heat factor with little success. There were several times when even a six-pack of beer or a couple shots of whiskey weren't enough to neutralize the searing heat. It was beyond tongue burning. We never knew which of her moods she was in and drew straws to determine who would sample her latest batch. All eyes would watch as the unlucky sampler dipped a spoon into the pot, held the spoon to his nose, then gingerly touched the spoon with the tip of his tongue. Sometimes there was a delayed reaction before the gasps, tears and the gulping of water. All of which brought laughter and a cold beer to the unlucky taster. Even now, when I think about those evenings, I still feel my tongue on fire and the tears rolling down my face.

 

She said that she would give her recipe to the first person who finished a bowl of her chili without tearing. As far as I know her recipe is still a secret.

Week 2, October 2023

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Image by Alexander Grey

A Lavender Trail

By Urmi Chakravarty

You always enjoyed doing that to me, didn’t you, Scarlet? My little sister, blessed with a stunning face - the toast of the town’s literati! Leaving me in the shadows – lonely, diffident - your thirty-year-old, overweight nerdy elder sister, who was always the third standby for prom nights? Who, all the guys would bet on, to find out if her cup size was a C or a D?! Sporting freckles and eyeglasses didn’t help my self-esteem either. But heck, who cared?

You knew exactly which dress to pick that would highlight your svelte body and creamy complexion. Along with a hint of lavender, your chosen fragrance. Congeniality was your middle name, while I begged…nay, screamed…for attention. Look at you — just how did you manage to come up with a ready repartee, an interesting trivia, or a discerning argument every single time. Tossing your head back with those Rapunzel tresses, flashing your million-watt smile - no wonder they all made a beeline for you. While I tried to merge with the wallpaper, typing imaginary emails furiously on my mobile, just so I looked fruitfully occupied. And valued.

Remember your graduation, Scarlet, when Ma gifted you grandma’s heirloom brooch? She never let me wear it even once – I had asked for it so many times. How I had cried myself to sleep that night! Oh, come now, don’t give me that baleful look – as if you didn’t notice, sleeping right next to me, smelling of lavender!

What could I do, Scarlet…you left me with no option, sis. The family picnic in the hills was a godsend. For once, the universe connived with me! One nudge was all it took to send you hurtling down the cliff into the deep, forested gorge below! The grey-and peach gloaming provided the perfect backdrop for your selfie, only if you hadn’t accidentally toppled over - both the cops and the omniscient onlookers averred. I kept peering below and screaming in panic – my amateur theatre workshops did have some use, after all! Though back then, they did nothing to enhance my personality or likeability quotient…eye rolls!

But Scarlet, you were brave…you chose to hang on by a thread. At the ICU when you kept uttering my name through your distended, fissured lips, twisted teeth and grating voice - that was when I almost lost my mind. But fortune favoured me, yet again - the thread snapped! Only, there’s this voice buzzing ‘traitor!’…‘murderer!’ relentlessly in my head now, like a  worm. I cup my ears and scream out loud, but it doesn’t drown the buzz, or the whiff of your lavender…

 

******

 

“Sister, please get the shot…fast!” Dr Trevor, the new HOD of Psychiatry, sounded concerned. “And why is she screaming and peeping down from her bed? What’s there to see underneath?”

“She saw her sister fall from a cliff, Doc…never quite recovered from the shock, poor thing. She tries to bring her back from the dead, probably…such abiding love between siblings!” The nurse on duty gave out an involuntary sigh. She had somehow developed a fondness for her young Schizophrenia patient.  

There was a flurry of activity as the medicos got around to securing and sedating her. Outside, the janitor nonchalantly mopped the floor with a lavender-scented, antiseptic cleaner. It was just another day at the sanatorium.   

Week 1, October 2023

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Watercolor Bird 2

A Wise Man

By Sasha Clark

The difference between a wise person and one who is not is not that the wise person has some sort of special magic. Angels or fairies don't sprinkle magic dust on them.

The wise person pays attention to their surroundings and themselves. They are honest with themselves and open to accepting change. They see problems as an opportunity to learn and grow, not as the universe testing or punishing them. And they appreciate the challenges in their lives, giving thanks for the growth the obtain through the experience.

They listen to their thoughts and beliefs, rejecting those that hold them back and embracing those which are helpful. They often do this over and over before it truly sinks in.

The wise person makes mistakes. They may say things that upset or even anger others. They may change their verbiage as they grow and learn sometimes saying the apparent opposite of what they said earlier.
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Like everything we see, experience, feel and think their wisdom is filtered through their own personalities, beliefs and expectations. What is wise to one may be poppycock to another.

In other words, the wise person doesn't exist.

Everyone has the potential to access wisdom. When you listen to yourself and take the long way instead of the shortcut, or vice versa, and find yourself having a lovely drive, you are being wise. When you choose to go out or stay home because you feel like it would be a better experience, and it is, you are being wise. Even if the experience itself is unpleasant but you learn from it, you are being wise.

Even choosing to have tacos instead of pizza and enjoying your meal is a little spark of wisdom.

Acknowledging our small wisdoms with thankfulness to ourselves for our own guidance, helps us to gain more wisdom. We are telling ourselves that we are open to wisdom and appreciative of it. We begin to adjust our perspective to one which embraces our wisdom and encourages ourselves to seek more.

Wisdom is not exclusive to gurus or those who write books and give lectures. There is wisdom in nature. The flower, tree, butterfly, bird live in the wisdom of knowing they are worthy. They live in trust of their place in nature.

And we are natural. We are an integral part of nature.

Sasha Clark was raised in the suburbs in Baltimore, Maryland. About 11 1/2 years ago she moved with her husband to Southern New Mexico. She began writing self-healing posts on Facebook shortly after covid started. Then a friend introduced her to a Haiku group so now she writes at least one Haiku daily. She also makes gemstone necklaces, mostly turquoise. And is learning Tai Chi including sword form. Her day job is a reference investigator for a background investigation company which does screening mostly for hospitals.

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