A harlot’s way: 1 Bethlehem

They still call me a harlot. I got used to it a long time ago. It ceased to bother me a long time ago, and this memoir is to explain the hows and the whys of a story with no ending (yet).
Elsewhere I have written of an encounter which, though I did not know it then, changed my life in two very different ways. That night in Bethlehem when I helped Salome the doula at a birth which would intersect with my life and change it in ways no man could have predicted, took me in a direction which seemed to go in a direction which condemned me, in the eyes of my fellow Jews, to the Pit.

I served at my uncle and aunt’s inn. My mother had died giving birth to me, and my father had no use for a young daughter and asked his sister to care for me. She came to Magdala one hot morning and took me back with her. As I grew towards womanhood it was clear that men found me attractive, and like many young women, I found that intoxicating.

But I was not, even then, a silly woman. I knew well the dangers of men. Salome, the doula who helped that fateful night in Bethlehem, was a wise counselor. She told me much about the way of a man with a woman and more about how to avoid becoming with child. I didn’t like the sound of some of the alternative ways to keep men happy, but saw the wisdom of her counsel – at least they would not kill me like birthing me had killed my mother. Did that leave me with a fear of giving birth – yes, of course, how could it not?

That night when I met Miriam and Joseph, I had been waiting for three sages from the East. A man of business had come to our inn asking whether there were rooms that could be booked for his masters. My uncle told me to deal with him, as he was busy. The great census meant good business, and he did not have time to deal with foreigners. I did the necessary, booking three rooms, collecting thereby three deposits which went into my running away fund. I had no intention of staying in Bethlehem all my life, and even less of being married off to old Aaron, the local landowner who wanted a young wife to keep him warm at nights, and with whom my uncle had been talking.

I missed the three men, but they caught up with me at the birth.

I was impressed. Their wealth was plain from the way they dressed and from the retinue which accompanied them. As I was drinking a cup of wine following the birth, their man of business said he wanted a word with me. “My master likes you and wonders if you would come back to Babylon with us. He will make it worth your while.”

Salome cocked an eyebrow and I asked him if I could give an answer in a moment; he assented. I asked what she thought. She asked me what I wanted. I remember my words to this day: “A better life than this.” I recall her words too: “If you can profit from what other women give away for free, then you need to be aware you will pay a price as well.” I looked at her. “Tell my aunt and uncle thank you. I just need to go to my room and collect a few things.” By that, I meant my gold. I was no fool. I had no idea what would await me in Babylon, but the possession of some means of escape would make my life easier. I told the man of business I would be back, and I was within the hour.

As they left the stable, I embraced Salome and said goodbye to Joseph and Miriam – and the baby. That, I thought, as the caravanserai wended its way out of Judea, was the end of them and that; I have seldom been so wrong.


Rowan’s way: 1 Opening skirmish

“Rowan? What sort of name is that for a girl?”

“It’s my name,” I replied, somewhat irritated by his tone of voice. He wasn’t to know I’d had that reaction over and over again from the moment I went to school. My tutor at College had been taken aback when “Rowan” turned out to be a red-headed woman with attitude and legs rather too long for the skirt I was wearing (as a male friend kindly put it), and that was pretty much standard all the way through to theological college and into my first curacy. That being so, I should not have been as short as I was with Ryan, but he was, even at the start, irritating as well as charming. He was one of those men who knew he was handsome and clever – and he knew I knew and thought I should react accordingly. Since I never liked doing what I was expected to do, I reacted according to my own lights. That was my introduction to our local lord of the manor – or at least to his heir.

My rector, Susan, was simply the best priest a girl could have wanted to serve her ticket under. She was a no-nonsense woman from Manchester who saw the Deanery as her challenge. Rural Suffolk was hardly home territory, and wealthy Tory landowners not her natural constituency, but she proved as adept with them as she did with all the locals. With seven parish churches to curate, she needed a curate and got me. Unlike Susan, I had grown up in the countryside and loved the rural life. She noticed, and as time passed, tended to let me deal with the outlying rural parishes.

Though it had happened when I was a girl, out here in the countryside, twenty years ago was but a moment, and there was some hesitation about the presence of a “lady Vicar”. My favourite comment was from Mrs. Bertram, who must have been ninety if she was a day, and leaving Communion one day commented: “Don’t worry love, it’d be easier for them to accept if you looked like the back of a bus. Pretty Vicars are harder on them.” She made me laugh, and I reflected that if one of the oldest inhabitants had no problem, I should lighten up with those who had. Time showed that was the sensible thing to do. Ryan later maintained that what was really wrong with what he called “Vicars in knickers” was that we made the “Tarts and Vicars” fancy dress ball problematic by being both.

Ah, yes, Ryan again. He keeps popping up. His family owned the old Rectory which the church had flogged off in the 1980s, leaving the then Vicar with a little suburban box, which made do for a busy curate. Said box was next to the Old Rectory, and it had been the habit of Lord Surtees to invite the old Vicar to lunch once a month. I inherited the invitation, and it was with some consternation that the butler received me.

“Hi there,” I said cheerily, noting the puzzlement on his face, “I’m Rowan, the Reverend Topham, the new curate.” I thought that his head would explode, as his eyes seemed bent on popping out, but I suppose the jaw dropping let out enough air to prevent that. He recovered quickly, and inviting me in, offered to take my shawl before showing me to the drawing room.

“The reverend Topham, my Lord.” If Lord Surtees was surprised, he did not show it.

“Delighted to meet you, and so glad you could come. Though I don’t often get to church, it matters in this community, and I like to keep in touch. Have you met my son, Ryan?”

He steered me in the direction of a very tall, bronzed figure who looked as though he was channeling Michaelangelo’s David – and knew it. I am on the tall side for a woman, five-nine, in my heels five-eleven, but he towered above me, he must have been at least six foot four.

“My, what have they done with Vicars? They didn’t look like you at Dover Court.” Now why was I not surprised to learn he’d been to one of the most exclusive, and expensive public schools in the country, famous for producing goodness knows how many Conservative Prime Ministers. Craning my neck upwards, I smiled:

“Thank you, but they do say that altitude can blur the vision.”

He laughed: “Touché, nice return of serve. Now, what can I get the prettiest Vicar I know to drink?”

“A g&t would go down nicely. How many Vicars do you know, by the way?”

Fixing me a stiff gin and tonic, he smiled broadly: “If I’d known they made them your model, I’d have made sure I knew a lot more. But you have me at a disadvantage. You know my first name, what’s yours?”

“Rowan”, I said.

“Rowan, what sort of name is that for a girl?”

And that, as they say, was how it started.

[Part 2 coming soon]

Who Was He

The Million MAGA March last weekend in Washington

America remains in an uproar as the administration attempts to foil the theft of the election. The main thing to remember is it’s not over until the fat elector sings, and it may be a while. I had about ten articles lined up to write about various aspects, but I just don’t want to, most of you have read it anyway. The main thing is to keep the faith, as I told a friend, America is a tough old eagle, and we’ve faced this sort of crap before.

Instead, I’m going to give you another of our articles from the new fiction category, which is proving very popular, This one from our old friend Dave Smith. Neo

He didn’t know me very well although he was my father and I was in my 40’s. But then it was becoming clear that I knew nothing about him either; what was real or what was simply a figment of the old man’s imagination.

“So, remember when we were hanging out on East 7th Street? We used to get high a lot and nod off to jazz or blues records playing in the background.”
“No, pop, I wasn’t there. I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“Sure you do. Remember when we were getting wasted before heading out to Slugs to hear Lee Morgan play? You remember that. He died that night. And I think he had no idea that his number had come up.”
“Dad, who is Lee Morgan?”
“You know, the trumpet player; remember Sidewinder?”
“No, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You must have been higher than I was and I got real nice that night and only after doing half a trey bag. It was real nice. But it was good in a way. We missed the shooting and that would have been a real downer. There was Margo, Marty, Louie the Greek, and Frenchie with us that night. We all got too high to want to walk in the snow down to East 3rd Street. It was cold and we were comfortably warm in the apartment.”
“Pop, you have me mixed up with somebody else.”
“Oh, do I? Who are you again?”
“I’m your son, pop? Don’t you know me?”
“Oh yeah. What’s your name?”
“It’s John. Your son John.”
He didn’t respond but looked off into the distance and back through many decades of his life; a life I scarcely knew anything about. I had never heard the names he was uttering and where was Slugs or who was Lee Morgan? So while he drifted off in thought, I got out my iPhone and simply Googled ‘Lee Morgan’ and read the following:
Edward Lee Morgan (July 10, 1938 – February 19, 1972) was an American jazz trumpeter and composer.
One of the key hard bop musicians of the 1960s, Morgan came to prominence in his late teens, recording on John Coltrane’s Blue Train (1957) and with the band of drummer Art Blakey before launching a solo career. 
Morgan stayed with Blakey until 1961 and started to record as leader in the late ’50s. His song “The Sidewinder”, on the album of the same name, became a surprise crossover hit on the pop and R&B charts in 1964, while Morgan’s recordings found him touching on other styles of music as his artistry matured. Soon after The Sidewinder was released, Morgan rejoined Blakey for a short period. After leaving Blakey for the final time, Morgan continued to work prolifically as both a leader and a sideman with the likes of Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter, becoming a cornerstone of the Blue Note label.
Morgan’s career was cut short at the age of 33 when his common-law wife Helen shot and killed him following a confrontation at Slug’s Saloon, in New York City.
So my dad was living in NYC in ’72 and was a jazz loving junkie? He almost witnessed the death of Lee Morgan? This just didn’t fit the image of my father. I knew he loved music and especially the blues. I know he still had LP’s of a lot of music mostly from the ’60s and a bunch of jazz albums . . . but I never listened to them.
Breaking the silence, dad started to speak of the angels that had saved his life. There was Helene, Kath, Gloria, Goldie, and Mary. Now the last name I knew because that was my mother’s name. He was a prayerful Catholic and so I didn’t know if in his dementia he was speaking of angels or people or both. He was thankful that there was always somebody around that loved him enough to keep him from slipping into another life; sinking into a pit of drugs and despair. Obviously, he had kicked any habit he might have had for he never did any drinking or taking of any drugs during my life, as far as I knew; except perhaps for the Xanax which he took for anxiety. And I didn’t even know, nor did I care to know, what might have been behind that either. It was becoming quite clear how distant we had always been.
My father knew his genealogy well. He could tell stories about his grandfather’s days in eastern Kentucky and how his grandfather’s brother, Phillip, rode with a posse to find Devil Anse Hatfield of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud. Though my understanding was that Devil Anse died of pneumonia in 1921 and fathered a number of children who still reside in the area; so they must not have caught him. Yet I didn’t know or listen to much of what the old man had to say and I knew less about them than I did the Hatfield’s and McCoys which was next to nothing.
Again, the silence was broken. “There was something that always stopped me from becoming a junkie,” he said. “Half my friends did. But not me. I was always afraid of being hooked on drugs. Whenever I began to get a ‘chippy’ and awoke with sniffles or an aching body I wouldn’t get high again for at least a week. That is how I was able to use drugs and keep it purely recreational.”
“You were shooting heroin? How come I didn’t know that?”
“Sure you did. Don’t you remember us getting high together? Remember how we used to go to Slugs and listen to jazz and nurse a beer for two hours so we could stay and listen to the music?”
“It wasn’t me dad.”
“Well, who was it then? I know it wasn’t . . . it must’ve been what’s his name. Never mind.” He stared off again but this time his eyelids got heavy and he slumped down in his hospital bed and never awoke. I suppose the morphine they administered him with reminiscent of an old state of mind he was not unfamiliar with. Maybe this conversation was a manifestation of those highs he once experienced for fun rather than for pain.
And just like Lee Morgan, he had no idea that his last thoughts were far from the thoughts that we think that we might entertain on our deathbeds. Death came suddenly for Lee and for my father and the sun set on a life that was mostly hidden like an iceberg. I only glimpsed the tip of that icy barque that rose above the surface.  Life is very short and I cannot regain the time needed to uncover what was my own father’s life.
I must live with that realization and the fact that I will forever have a question mark in my mind:
Who was he, and for that matter, who am I?

The Ashes’ B & B

This is the first of the short stories written for our new fiction category. Quite a few more already are here, and I know there’ll be more. Enjoy! Neo

They were on holiday, of course. They’d been in several locations but found one that was unique – it was perfect. It was wonderful. It was everything they’d hoped for. Beautiful sunshine, lovely breezes, a peppy little river, lots of food, and accommodations. Yes; it was perfect.

Phineas and Francesca Frogge had waited for this holiday. The winter had been long, cold, and hard and the summer was completely different and more to their liking. This particular holiday place, The Ashes’ B & B, was more than they could have hoped for. Out on the grounds, next to the bubbling little river, was a sitting area with several umbrella-like gunnera leaves, perfect to sit under when the sun was the hottest. Dainty morsels of food drifted languidly on the river, little flying things happened by frequently. Whenever they felt like it, the Frogges could avail themselves of the river and swim.

Late afternoons at the Ashes’ was a particular treat. The hosts brought out serving trays of all the finest repast. The slugs and the worms were of the finest sort – plump and juicy and right in front of them. The cocktails – well, there’s hardly any words fine enough to describe them, and the Ashes’ made sure there was plenty to be had.

In the evenings, Phineas would serenade Francesca. He had a wonderful basso profundo voice and Francesca, utterly charmed, would sit and listen, eyelashes fluttering, as she nipped the occasional mosquito from the air. It was, according to their glowing descriptions, idyllic.

Phineas and Francesca had such glowing things to say about the Ashes’ B & B that I find myself longing to be at that place; to sit under the gunneras, swim in the river, nibble on slugs. Oh that my holiday will come soon!

Friday Roundup

Mark Twain

If you look at our menus above, you will find a new entry, called fiction. We all enjoyed each other’s Halloween stories so much that we decided to make it a permanent feature. Knowing us, it will probably end up being mostly seasonal, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re open to any sort of fiction that can be expressed in a reasonably short essay, experience says about 800 words, but it’s flexible.

So get those creative juices flowing!

It’s open to anyone, contributors already know how, anybody else that wants to write for it, send your draft to one of us, and we’ll go from there.

There’s no pressure (except what you put on yourself) this is supposed to be fun, although I personally like it when it carries some sort of moral message.

Wednesday, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th Month, President Trump honored America’s veteran’s at the Tomb of the Unknowns, in the rain. If you haven’t seen the full service, it is rather awesome. By the way, Joe Biden called the lid around noon from his basement.

St. Francis of Assisi said:

Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.

You may have noticed that Real Clear Politics has revoked their call of the election for Vice President Biden. As they did so they subtracted 20 Electoral votes (presumably Pennsylvania’s) from his total.

How Fox News outfoxed itself, a post mortem

From Jay Whig at American Greatness:

[N]ew, but not improved, Fox News has chosen to present its election coverage with a strong pro-Joe Biden bias, calling Arizona early (it is still in question eight days after Election Day), predicting Democrats would pick up five seats in the House of Representatives (Republicans appear to have picked up as many as a dozen), calling the election prematurely (Biden is not the “president-elect”), and suppressing news on election fraud and related litigation (it’s real and ongoing). This is the story of the rise and fall of Fox News, and the rise of Newsmax and One America News.

Once upon a time in America there were three news networks. A function of FCC control of airwaves, three major networks ABC, CBS, and NBC were licensed to broadcast VHF television.

Incoming signals were free. The sale of advertisements paid for the broadcasting. The Nielsen rating/share—a measure of eyeballs—drove the value of advertising time. This oligopoly structure disciplined the media.

Each network competed for a three-way news hour rating/share. When it came to broadcast news, ABC, CBS, and NBC each targeted a broad audience. News had to appear trustworthy to many people, and bias had to be carefully structured to preserve a strong trust signal to a large number of people. “And that’s the way it is,” became left-biased Walter Cronkite’s signature signoff from CBS News. […]

Fox News—with programming led by Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, and Sean Hannity—remained through the 2020 campaign the only large venue for diverse, if biased, information. That ended on Election Night. The James and Lachlan Murdoch power structure inside Fox News made a decision to deploy a heavy pro-Biden bias as results were coming in. In theory, Fox News was to ape the old model of trust. In practice, Fox News shattered all trust at a critical moment.

By constricting the diversity of fact filters through the shut down of right-leaning coverage of the election, Fox News compelled right-leaning audiences to disregard all information that all media was delivering.

Completely FUBAR.

Our nation is on the brink. The market is now ripe for the growth of new conservative news media, such as Newsmax and OAN. Ramping up production values and original reporting with an explicit right-leaning bias would make for a better public understanding, and will make Newsmax and OAN a lot of money.

He’s spot on, read the whole thing at the link above.

Goldilock’s Syndrome

And so it continues! Quick now, while Nightmarish Evil Ogre is spell-bound, read the next of the horrible horror stories!

This is from Dave Smith, a friend of Neo and all of us at the blog

I awoke and immediately went to the light switch on the wall and flipped the switch. And once again nothing happened. There was no consequence of my action; it was ineffective. The room remained eerily lit as though it were dawn. And so I proceed to peer into my bedroom mirror and once again am expectantly met with a face which was not my own reflection. What greets me is a grotesque monstrosity staring back at me with a Mona Lisa-like smile and unexpected movements which frighten me every time I witness it. This is the ritual to which I have grown accustomed. First the light switch and then the mirror-gazing. These are the tests I have developed so that I might differentiate reality from non-reality.
I have lost track of time altogether; for I know not when this began or how long this has been going on. I do remember thinking that it was not dissimilar to Franz Kafka’s experience as witnessed in his famous novella, Metamorphosis and that perhaps his work was merely being mimicked in my mind or worse, that it might be a manifestation of what we call reality. How will I know?
Indeed, I do not know anymore if I am dead or in a coma and have but little hope of returning to that reality from which I started. Or if it even still exists. For I have tried thousands of times to escape this nightmare and hopelessness and despair are my constant companions with each attempt. My life has vanished.
Within my mind, I constantly think of my return to the Goldilock’s Zone of reality. It is not unlike the Goldilock’s Zone spoken of when we think of the placement of the Earth from the Sun; a place just right. It is a place where the temperature is perfect for water and life to exist. A place where the Moon is seen as exactly the same size as the Sun. A place where men contemplate the cosmos, their existence and consciousness itself.
I have now come to see another Goldilock’s Zone as well; that zone between the Micro and the Macro universes of existence. For in the subatomic universe we have no ability to have active consciousness and in the stellar universe, it is impossible as well. We are at the optimal, nay, the only spot in the spectrum that exhibits what we call reality. For reality is merely the ability for creation to self-direct thoughts, actions and reactions to an infinite stretch from the infinitely small to the infinitely large. From the heavenly to the deep dark corridors of hell. It is from this perfect zone from which I have fallen.
And to think that this zone might be lost by such a simple and natural process as sleep. I did wonder at times if that third of life spent in dreams was not akin to going from the last sentence of a book’s chapter to the first sentence of a successive chapter without any notice that perhaps a great deal may have transpired from the last to the next. But somehow we take up where we left off without any thought of lapsed time . . . an enormous percentage of our lives having been spent in slumber. But that is merely what passes for amusement for me these days.
And so I dream. I think that I awake and to my amazement, I can no longer find a way back to my previous life and take up where I left off. My friends and family are lost to me as they are in the Goldilock’s Zone and I reside in a dream within a dream within a dream. My only path is to try to sleep and awake once more until I might find myself back where I began.
But time has stood still or moved so far from where I started that I have lost all measure of it. It is like my dreams have been stacked up like a deck of cards and that I go three cards up or two cards back but never go far enough in one direction to pop out at the top of the deck. For I have no ability to self-direct where a dream will take me; further toward my escape into reality or further into the prison of my own subconscious. So I live an eternity of repeating the above sequel of sleeping, dreaming, awaking and then realizing that I am still lost in sleep without any certainty of the outcome. At one end of the spectrum awaits the Goldilock’s Zone and at the other, harmless dreams or night terrors of the most terrifying and frightening experiences.
I can only send out warnings of this malady which awaits us in sleep should anyone or anything I meet within my dreams be able to find their way out of this labyrinth. Do not take it for granted that the reality in which you awake is necessarily the reality from which you left in sleep. Someday soon you too may be lost in an eternal maze of unreality and see that your perception of life was a phantasm; no more real than the dreams you used to enjoy as a release from the troubles of the day. Instead, they may be quite worse than any trouble you have yet witnessed and I conclude that they may even last for an eternity. Sleep at your own peril.
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