Last summer, the heat was a killer. Every day, the news reported more causalities of the brutal heat wave, old people, young people, people who worked outside, played outside. A first grader died during a short excursion to the local park, prompting a nationwide campaign of keeping the children indoors, protecting them from the heat.
And now that summer dawns again, everyone is worried. Will the heat be as cruel this year, will it make us suffer, make us melt?
Heat, anthropomorphized into a killer so that we have not something to blame but someone.
In this issue’s collection of six stories, heat influences and threatens, heat appears as an actual weapon and as a vehicle of remembrance.
(2) On a hot day some strange kinship by Sunil Sharma (3) In the Heat of the Night by Dawn DeBraal (4) The Newspaper Reporter by Mark Kodama (5) Palm Leaf by Abu Siddik (6) Cremation by Subhash Chandra (7) HEAT by Louis Kasatkin
The heat is on. It is heating up. The heat is killing me.
Heat is a very diverse word, one that carries multiple meanings. And with summer revving its engine in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems like a good time to include the word in our stories for this week.
Note that the deadline for this week is Friday rather than Thursday.
The first time I heard this saying was in preschool. I do not remember the specific context, most likely it had something to do with my fiery best friend with the sharp comebacks, but I remember my confusion. Yes, getting physically hurt was undesirable but surely words were stronger than fists.
A bruise will fade, a cut will scab over, a broken bone will mend, but verbal attacks become permanent landmarks in our memories. The sting of a paddle is far less than a carefully crafted verbal lashing. A victim of spousal abuse will stay with the abuser as long as there is an apology afterward, a declaration of affection and remorse. Loving words can override vile behaviour, over and over again and just as easily work in the opposite direction: vile words can override loving behaviour.
Maybe the true phrase should be “sticks and stones may break my bones but names (or words, as I learned it) will break my heart, crush my soul, and trigger World War III”.
This week, we have six stories that explore this old English rhyme.
My mother was born a brunette with raven black hair that glowed blue in the sunlight. Her complexion rivalled Snow White, making her an exception in a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired family. She had me later in life, back in the days when thirty-six is older than it is today. Her style had changed by the time I came along, becoming more comfortable and casual than when she had raised my older siblings. I was born at the very end of the seventies but a decade earlier, my mother had been very fashion conscious and made the most of her dramatic features. She never wore pastels or flower prints or anything soft and flowing. My mother kept her color palate minimal but bold, choosing to wrap herself in black, white, and red. Very few people can pull off red on a regular basis but it was my mother’s signature color at one point and deservedly so. Her nails would be bright cherry red as would her lips, matching everything in her wardrobe.
As an adult, I have tried to do the same but red makes my face look flushed and here in Japan, people only have red cheeks when they are inebriated. So I avoid the color for myself though I appreciate it on others. Red is not an easy color to pull off, but those who can do so with aplomb.
Which leads me to the stories for Issue Four. Eight stories showcasing red as a political statement, as a symbol of hatred, of passion, a memory, a dream. All the stories this week are rich with the color, the authors imbuing their prose with a boldness only red can provoke, and doing so with much aplomb.
For the last three nights in a row, a marten has run across my path. I am rather certain that it is not the same marten, for each night I was in a different neighborhood when it happened. My reaction, on the other hand, was the same each time: exhilaration.
I live in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by mountains on three sides and a very shallow sea on the other. Occasionally, I will get an alert from one of my kids’ schools warning us about boars or monkeys roaming the streets, having left the comforts of their forest for the chaos of cars and supermarkets. I have never actually seen the undoubtedly disorientated beasts but I like the idea that I could see them.
So spying the martens, their slim copper bodies racing across my path, thrilled me. Martens are solitary creatures, controlling a carefully selected territory and only socializing for the usual Spring flings. They prefer the woods but it is not uncommon in Japan for them to establish their habitat in human-dominated regions since every neighborhood is a mixture of modern concrete buildings and old houses with sculpted gardens. Not ideal but they are opportunists and make do with the hand dealt them. They use shallow drainage channels as their main routes but occasionally have to cross a regular street, as I witnessed this past week.
My days, on the other hand, feel decidedly not wild. I work and then come home and prepare for the next day of work, repeating until the week is spent. My food is wrapped up in clear cellophane, my sleep is determined by digital pulses instead of the lightening sky. My choices have become rote; everything feels tame, controllable, and infinitely so.
The flash of the martens disrupts that delusion. That sleek red streak of fur is unconcerned with my PTA meetings, my dentist appointments, my tests that need marking. The martens are living a wild life within our constructed tameness.
We humans are less honest than the marten. We live a pretend life, making up to-do lists to distract us from our own primal nature. We don’t want to be part of nature’s cycle because we know its rotation; instead we encase ourselves with material goods, petty obligations and expectations, thinking that the weight of them can sever our animalness, our birth and bloom, our decay and demise. We keep detailed day-planners and drink Frappuccinos and build highways and shopping malls and pretend that we have a better grip on life than the humble marten, scurrying through the wilderness that surrounds us all.
I knew when I selected this week’s prompt it that there were many ways to interpret the term. And as usual, the writers delivered. Issue 2 features prose and poetry that explore all forms of wildlife and wild lives.
Hey there and welcome to Volume 2 of Mercurial Stories.
My grandmother had always said she detested the smell of roses, called them funeral flowers, and because she was my first kindred spirit on this planet, I adopted this attitude towards the beloved bloom.
So when Frankie Oscar the Third showed up on Valentine’s Day at my junior high school with a dozen of them cradled in one arm and a heart-shaped box of chocolates covered in fake roses in the other, I found myself more nauseous than delighted. Nauseous and embarrassed. I had gotten a bigger present than any other 8th grader and from my high school boyfriend at that. I should have felt smug as well as delighted. But I did not.
The note he had included in the card made it all the worse. It read just like all his other letters, I love you, sweetheart. Again, wasn’t that what I was supposed to want to read? And yet I found it incredibly boring, the same sentence over and over, hastily scribbled on wide-ruled notebook paper.
My mom told me that I was supposed to keep the roses in the empty chocolate box, a sort of romantic trophy that I would eventually be sentimental for. So I cut off the flowers’ heads and tossed them into the box then stored it at the back of my closet. Later, on a laundry-washing weekend home from college, I came across the chocolate box when looking for an old marbled composition notebook. There inside were the rose heads, their red petals now shriveled and black. The sickly sweet smell flooded the room. I put the lid back on, walked out to where my father was burning a pile of leaves, and tossed the box in whole.
It might seem a little strange, in light of that story, that I should select, for a story due on Valentine’s Day, the prompt “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. And yet I decided on it because I assumed that my writers would have wide-range of perspectives about the holiday. And I was not disappointed.
Today we have five stories with titles from the now extinct Conversation Hearts candy, the small candy with big messages.