Sunday, January 20, 2019

CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the site provide a vehicle for sharing my own words and language. In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my publishing website majikwoids. A link is provided in the sidebar.

Last week I listed the six most influential author's of detective stories. This week's post begins the biographies of those writers.

William Wilkie Collins
(1824 - 1889)

William Collins was born and raised in the fashionable London district of Marylebourne. Wilkie, as he was affectionately known, then spent the remainder of his life within the same few blocks. Curiously, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes also was located in the district at 221B Baker Street.

By any standard, Collins led an unconventional life. Early on he became a story-teller. At boarding school, the short, stout boy with the disproportionately large head and shoulders with a lump on his forehead, and with small hands and feet, began spinning tales to appease a bully. His ungainly physical attributes, however, seemed no burden to Collins. He seems to have used himself for the model of Count Fosco, one of the principle characters in The Woman In White.

Initially a journalist, at 24 he entered law school and passed the bar in 1851; but he never practiced. He had begun writing fiction in 1843 and his first story appeared in a popular illustrated magazine. His first novel, inspired by the death of his father, was The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A. The book was published in 1848, receiving good reviews. Wilkie never looked back.

Writing afforded him the financial wherewithal and the freedom to cultivate his bohemian preferences. He remained a lifetime bachelor, though he did live with several women. He indulged in good food, good drink, often to excess. Wilkie wore flamboyant clothes, frequently traveled to France and Italy, was widely read, and maintained a vigorous sense of humor. Despite his apparent joie de vivre, his health was often poor. To relieve the symptoms of his many ailments, he took larger and larger doses of laudanum, a tincture of opium, which was a common medication of the 19th century.

His wide circle of friends included Charles Dickens; and for many years Collins provided material for Dickens' magazines. The Woman In White, No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone were his best known works. During his lifetime he wrote over thirty major books, hundreds of articles, short stories and essays, and a dozen plays. He was noted for his cynical regard for the Victorian establishment, and for championing the many victims of the prevalent social injustices.

As we shall see, that cynical regard for establishment would become a major theme in all subsequent detective fiction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

CONVERSATIONS (CwHD) is a weblog about words and language and other nonsense. CwHD began May 1, 2017. Besides thematic essays, the sites provide a vehicle for sharing my own words and language.

In July, 2017, I opened The Bookstore. This page provides an overview of my published work. Print and ebook copies are available through my website majikwoids. A link is provided in the sidebar.

Top Ten

Top ten lists are ubiquitous. Any subject one cares to name probably has its list. Groups of ten are numerically satisfying. The metric system is a case in point. Such lists are brief, but still manage to capture the essence of the subject. Top ten novelists, top ten baseball players, top ten dogs, top ten automobiles: peruse the lists and one is immediately immersed in the subject. Which is not to mention the initial letter alliteration.

As my current project involves the equally ubiquitous detective novel, I thought it appropriate to list the most influential writers of this genre, and provide a brief biography of each. My list is not a top ten, nor a 'best' compilation. The list is comprised simply of six individuals who became benchmarks for all writers in this genre. The six will be listed in chronological order.

Wilkie Collins must certainly begin any such scheme. Two of his novels---The Woman In White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868) --- are still read and rank among the best written. Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study In Scarlet, 1886) next in line, is arguably the most influential of the group with his creation, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair At Styles, 1920) the most prolific of the group, has sold millions of books and her man, Hercule Poirot, is almost as well known as Holmes. Dashiel Hammet (The Maltese Falcon, 1930) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, 1939) come up next. These two created what amounts to a sub-genre of detective fiction. No more Mr Nice Guy. With Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the hard boiled detective takes center stage, and would set the tone for the next fifty years. Last on the list is Rex Stout (Fer-de-Lance, 1934). Stout, like Christie, was a word machine. He created Nero Wolfe in the 1930s; and took the concept of the locked room, a common motif throughout detective fiction, and turned it on its ear. Wolfe solves all his cases from the custom built chair in his office in the New York city brownstone where he resides.

Others beside these six might well have made the list. My time frame, however, is roughly 1850 to 1950. Many more minor --- they would not appreciate the label, I am sure --- writers have penned stories during this time frame: Philo Vance, Mickey Spillane and Charlie Chan's creator Earl Derr Biggers to name but three. But if 'influential' is the governing descriptor, I will stick with my 'big six.'

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Blind Geisha
lll - 15

Pall of Smoke

Pale dawning. She was alone on the beach with wisps of ground fog trailing the shuffle of her bare feet. The soft break of the low swell was glassy in the dead calm. Down the beach, a pall of smoke squatted above the laurel hedge, rising slowy above where the house once stood. Now charred timbers. One red truck remained; the crew of three probing debris and spraying hot spots. The pudgy neighbor stood gaping from his driveway.
"Not there, you say?" he said.
"That's right."
"But ... she's always there."
"What you see is what you get," the fireman said.
"But ... "
She had walked to the point in the darkness of early morning wearing just her gray night gown. Tide in, she thought, the rock pools all covered. Flood. Then ebb. The coarse sand of the upper beach, littered with pebbled stone from the cliff's wall, pricked and pained her tender feet; and she stopped, standing with a hand against the rough wall of rock. She stood quite composed looking out to sea, a smudge on her cheek.
With looping swirls of foamy sea water lapping her feet, she had turned and retraced her steps, the fire's glow in the distance, a siren's wail. At the little creek, she walked across the swale of drifted sand to sit in a hollow in the lee of driftwood and flotsam, the detritus of gales past. She sat on a log and remembered that she had not looked up the bird---a tern, was it? Smaller than a gull--- and then said, "My glasses."
Swirls of fog, a bit of breeze rising. She ran a hand through tangled, lank hair. Tendrils, she thought. Fragments ... vacant thoughts ...
Hunched, her body now slack, leaning against the shabby, rumpled bed, in the distance the whaler's stench coming down the breeze, a gull dancing the tide, turning now, sudden rush of water hissing up the sand, a horn sounding, yelling in the street, crow caws, and down the beach, the child calling

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Blind Geisha
III - 14

Flickering Candles

Early morning, darkness beyond the panes of her window, the candles flickering, the scent of sandlewood. She rubbed her eyes, then reached a hand to the top her head, patted, frowned. "My glasses," she said. Fiddlesticks. Where ... And found them on the floor beside the leg of her chair. Elizabeth sighed, bent for them awkwardly, placed them deliberately behind her ears, gently on the bridge of her nose. She took up her pencil and wrote:

Ikkyu died in 1481. He was 88 years old. His death, ascribed to acute ague, came, like the death of so many Zen masters, while sitting in meditation at Daitokuji, his Kyoto temple. His death poem, written shortly before his life ebbed away, was in his own hand. The Daitokuji claims to have the original of this poem. It reads:

South of Mt. Sumeru
Who can match my Zen?
Even if Hsü-t'ang comes
He's not worth half a penny.

Elizabeth pulled her glasses to the end of her nose, scratched her forehead. A challenge, those words. They were not meant to be disrespectful, not boastful; but rather, I think, to be a goad to his followers. Zen was rife with slack monks who gave no thought to practicing what they preached. And Mori? Had she outlived Ikkyu? Or was she, too, already buried on her beach? Or, if still alive, would she have known of Ikkyu's death? From her manuscript, this:

He sat on the rickety verandah of the old shed, hands draped over knees, thumbs and middle fingers just touching. A small boy ran by, dust kicking up beneath his heels. A mother's shrill cry. In the distance, the mill's wheel turned and thumped, and song rose from the flooded fields as the farmers began to plant their rice.

I brought him his tea, but he simply shook his head. Plagued with dysentery these past few weeks, Ikkyu was now resolved. I knelt beside him. His kimono had opened at his wizened throat exposing a boney white chest. My small bundle sat just beside a narrow bench.

"Please go now," he said. His voice was quite strong. "Nothing done, everything complete." Then he was silent.

I bowed, took up my bundle and turned away. Drums beat from the field. Women hurried with their baskets of young shoots. I walked down the village street towards the high road to the coast. I saw Ikkyu no more.

Elizabeth removed her glasses, rubbed her eyes. All we are left with is speculation. Did Ikkyu die in this nameless village? Lake Biwa is thirty odd miles from Kyoto. Did he recover sufficiently to return to Daitokuji? Or have his followers created a little Zen tale? Many questions. No answers.
"We need a time frame here," Elizabeth said. It would be good to know when they parted, those two. Say, late spring through early summer for the rice and towards the end of the war. "And that helps us how?" she said aloud.
Was his death at Daitokuji just some revisionist history? And that death poem? Genuine? Most think so. Perplexing, the whole business. She absently wiped the lenses of her glasses on the hem of her robe. In the margin of the page she wrote: Note to self: Is some explication of the poem necessary? Should the reader know who Hsü-t'ang was? And 'ague.' A bit literary. Would 'fever' better serve? I'll ask Grace.
Her hand moved to the brown manila envelope. In Grace's looping hand, an address and her phone number. "Eureka," Elizabeth said softly. She took her glasses from her face slowly with both hands. The flickering candles blurred. Reluctant morning sky still in darkness.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Conclusions, as I have already mentioned, are difficult. The reader tends to trip over loose ends like a child with shoes untied. All questions and conflicts in the story need to be resolved, either within a chapter or at the conclusion.

Resolution is a key element in most art forms. Music, specifically as composed in the western hemisphere, is built on tones that become chords that are ordered so that a progression demands resolution. The key of 'C', for example, in its simplest configuration, is comprised of the 'C' chord. the 'F' chord and the 'G' chord. Played on any instrument, the final 'G' chord begs to return to 'C'.

Not all resolution is so clear cut. Popuar fiction and literary fiction might well use very different means to conclude a story. Popular fiction emphasizes plot foremost, then character and lastly theme. Dick Francis has sold millions of books. Commonly called page-turners, his plots are tight and his characters distinctive. Themes, besides horses and horse racing, tend to be subjects such as banking, flying, painting and the like. Easy to undertand.

Samuel Beckett writes literary fiction (though he would have likely rejected the label). Presenting a theme is the primary objective. Characters and plot take a back seat. And abstraction is the order of the day. Angst and anti-heros, chaos, confusion, death, and a wry brand of humor are the subjects he presents. Beckett has won a nobel prize for literature. He does not write page-turners.

If label this story I must, then stamp it with Literary Fiction.

The Blind Geisha
III - 13

Dogs Run Madly

Dogs yapping down the beach. A calling man's voice. Fog. The gulls make dogs run madly cross the sand chasing elusive dreams, thought Elizabeth. Dogs madly chasing gulls and elusive ... "Literate this morning, I am". She rubbed the fingers of her hand around the window pane smearing the condensation. Or is it 'literary'? She heard Micki moving about downstairs. Whatever. Gumption, she thought. I lack gumption this morning. Need gulls to chase. Galling.
"Grace," she said. It's her, downstairs, moving about, not ...
"Good morning," the young woman called. "I have news."
"Good or bad?"
"A friend in Palo Alto has turned up another gem." Grace was smiling. She stood at the bottom of the stairs as Elizabeth made her way slowly down. Not as spry this morning, the young woman thought. "Shall we go to the parlor?"
"Did you spell that with a 'u', Gracie? You didn't, did you? Such a slacker you are. Self-discipline is the key to survival. Just ask any samurai you see." Elizabeth stopped and puffed and said, "Phew, I am pathetic this morning."
"Were you up early again?"
"Yes, yes. My demented brain is busier than our little yellow humming birds, flitting here and there."
The old woman tapped her forehead with the back of her hand. "Oh, fiddlesticks," she said.
"I'll get them," Grace said. "No worries. You come on down," and she extended a hand.
"Thank you, dear. I'll just get my coffee and meet you in the parlour. With or without that 'u'."
"The manila envelope on the table," Grace said from the top of the stairs, turning, looking down. "Your surprise."
Elizabeth regarded the plain brown, slightly rumpled package perched against a mug. She poured coffee. As she lifted her cup, pain broke her thumb's grip and the cup tilted away, sloshing coffee on to the counter top, the floor. Chin to chest, she gave a shake of her head, slumped against the edge of the sink. Groaned.
"Beth," came Grace's voice.
"What is it, Bessie?
Another shake of the head. "Nothing. Infirmities."
"I've got you."
Arm in arm, the two women moved slowly to the parlour.
They sat quietly. A gray morning. Distant gulls.
"Shall we have a look?" Grace said. Go ahead; you do the honors."
From the envelope, Elizabeth extracted a thin sheaf of 81/2 x 11 pages. They were crisp and white with a green post-it in the upper left corner. "The squid man?" Elizabeth said.
"My friend in Palo Alto was researching the Kuro Shio, the Japanese Current and how it produces eddies all along the coast of Japan. Put simply, little fish come with these eddies and the big fish follow, including the fishermen with their fishing boats. This," taking up the manuscript, "is a copy of a log from one of those boats. 15th century. Wood, scow-shaped, that distinctive junk rigging."
"Think delicate ribbed fan and blow it up big. Stick it on a post. Put the post on a boat. Junk."
Grace thumbed through the forty odd pages of the manuscript. Half-way through, she stopped and squared the small stack.
"She was scanning this document, this ship's log, and came across a heading that read, literally: Old Woman In Hut. Onna no koya. And, according to the coordinates, this was just down the coast a mile or so from where our little Mori grew up. She called; we talked."
"Antecedents, dear. Most important. Your friend called, yes? Not our little Mori."
Grace shook her head. "Pedantic. Whatever. The upshot is that while the woman in the log is unnamed, the dates seem right and it could be her. It should be."

             Position: 34º N, through Bungo Strait, then SSW
Date: 3rd day, Changing Clothes Month, 12th year Sengoku
Clear, wind NNW, swell 2 feet, filled hold with young squid

The old woman still living in hut. Found her there at the end of the season. Many squid this year with the big eddy sweeping them in onto the shelf. It is good not to have to sail deep water and contend with the black current.

And in the margin, after the date, another green post-it with '1479' written on it.
"This is the first reference in the log. The Sengoku period began in 1467 with the Onin War and ended in 1615. But clearly this fisherman had seen her before. It goes on," and Grace read from the highlighted script of the manuscript.

We left her to it. Warm, this winter, and dry. We give her squid. She gives us song. Dead eyes, but sweet voice.

"That was the clincher for me. 'Dead eyes' was the translation of shindame. A figurative phrase for 'blind'? I've sent a query to a man in Japan. We should hear in a couple of days. So there's location, date, age of the woman, her apparent blindness, and her singing. Like I said, if this wasn't Mori, it should be."
Elizabeth frowned. "Except for that 'old'," she said. "She was fifty something. Old?"
"A relative term."
"Oh really? Look at me. Look at you."
Grace smiled and shook her head. "Mori was somewhere in between. But a much different time." She leaned forward. "Might have been, then. Likely, I think. And several weeks later there was this," and Grace read:

Whaler's Cove. 14th year.
Ran from storm. Anchors out fore and aft. Careened her after. Barnacles again. Took ship's boat up coast looking for schools. Found woman down the beach. Dead. Buried her up above tide line. Rocked the mound. Burnt the hut.

"Took sick and died, she did," Elizabeth said. "Alone on her beach."
"The ague no doubt." Grace thumbed the pages.
"The same year as Ikkyu's death, yes?"
"The same."
"Coincidence or ..."
The two women sat quietly.
"Synchronicity," Elizabeth said. She frowned.
"Ah," said Grace.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Four months ago I posted Chapter 11 of The Blind Geisha, the short novel that I was serializing on this web log. The last four chapters, the conclusion, obviously have not appeared. Conclusions are both difficult and important. Though I had the final chapters outlined with a few notes, I could not find the substance to add to this framework.

So I waited. That has always been an effective tactic for me. And, the words, or rather the ideas, began to arrive; and I had my conclusion. What follows is Chapter 12. The remaining three chapters will follow in subsequent weeks.

The Blind Geisha
III - 12


"What do you make of this?" Grace asked and pushed a thin sheaf of papers across the slatted, weathered table top to Elizabeth. She tapped her index finger on a poem that was rendered in both the original Japanese and its English translation. "Is this the archetypal Ikkyu? Was he reporting fact or spinning fantasy?"
Elizabeth smiled. "That is the question, now isn't it." She took up the pages, lowered her glasses from her forehead, and read.
"And the difference between eroticism and just sex?" Grace asked.
A shrug. "Perhaps it's simply explicitness. Pornography is initially erotic, but wears out its welcome rather quickly."
They had placed a small, rectangular cedar slat table in the middle of the back yard, and sat there now with their papers stacked and weighted with flat gray stones against a sea breeze that found the chinks in the surrounding hedges, the shrubs, the bushes and trees. The sun, now at summer height, flooded the backyard with warmth and light.
Elizabeth placed a hand on the sheaf of papers and, leading with her fingers, read slowly aloud:

Ten days in this temple and my mind is reeling.
Between my legs the red thread stretches and stretches.
If you come some other day and ask for me,
Better look in a fish stall, a sake shop, or a brothel.

"Your translation, isn't it?"
'"Yes, but leaning heavily on the work of Sonja Arntzen."
Elizabeth tapped her fingers on the weathered table top. "Bit bold, for an old man. Don't you think?"
"He wasn't shy," Grace said. "That's certain."
"He was in his seventies when he took up with Mori. She was forty something. Their vibrant sex life does seem a bit much."
Grace nodded. "Was he stretching a point, taking a bit of poetic license? Do you think?"
"Just how big was that fish?" Elizabeth leaned against the back of the chair, hands flat now on the wide wooden arms. "One can't know, of course, from this remove."
"Have you read Maya Angelou?" Grace asked. She slipped her sunglasses up onto her forehead. "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is what most people have read."
"Some," Elizabeth said. She came to the university when I was there."
Nodding, Grace said, "A quote from her goes: 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' She was talking about painful experiences, emotional trauma. But I think it works both ways. Enjoyable emotions will be long remembered, too."
"And celebrated, yes? In poems. Perhaps enhanced. Is that what are friend Ikkyu did? Is his reputation based on bits of fantasy?"
Grace eased herself to the front of the chair, stood. "Quite possible," she said. "Most likely."
Chipmunks darted around the cedar tree chirping stridently. Up they went, out a limb then both jumped nimbly to the fir tree, into the maple and away through the laurel hedge.
Laughing, Grace said, "Sex again."
"Mating, those two."
"Birds do it, bees do it ... ," and both women joined for the chorus of 'Let's Fall In Love'.
Laughing together, they gathered up their papers.
"It does raise a point," Grace said. "Take stews for example."
"Yes ma'am. Stews."
"Stews," Elizabeth said.
"Wikipedia lists over 150 different 'stews' complete with a picture, description, and country of origin. Everything from your common Mulligan stew, to that delectable cowboy dish called sonofabitch stew. Whatever was on hand was thrown into the pot and then spiced up with bits of offal from a calf ... "
"Oh my.'
"My personal favorite, from some Chinese gourmand, is Buddha Jumps Over The Wall."
"Nothing from Japan?"
"There is. Something called Nikujaga. But I don't think this is anything Ikkyu and Mori would have eaten. Meat, potatoes, and onions in soy sauce. A little too 20th century. Post war even."
Elizabeth pushed herself up with a grunt. "And this somehow relates to ..."
"Sex," Grace said.
"Sex?" Elizabeth said, raising eyebrows.
"Ubiquitous and infinitely varied."
Arms entwined, the pair laughed again together and walked slowly to the kitchen door.
"I'll put the kettle on," Elizabeth said. She moved to the stove, shifted the pot to a back burner, then put a finger to her nose and turned to Grace. "Come to think," she said, "there's not much about food, now is there. Nothing in the poetry. Little in her travel journal."
"Rice and vegetables, millet maybe. Not particularly prose worthy."
Turning on the burner, Elizabeth centered the pot. "Always wondered how people could get pudgy being so poor."

The three salesmen scooped handfuls of steaming rice from the pot and wadded them into balls, juggling them from palm to palm. A flat table-sized stone marked this stopping place along the trail through the lowering wooded hills. Just beyond, a fork in the path took travelers down to Kyoto, smoldering in the distant flats, or left along the ridge crest towards the distant sea.

"Help yourself," the chubby cheeked one said to Mori. "Dig in." She sat off by herself mending the hem of her kimono. "You not going with us anymore then?" The skinny fellow asked. He was from the north, his accent clipped and coarse. "Bandits in these hills," the third salesman said. "All those samurai out of work with their lords and masters dead." The trio laughed and winked at one another. "They doing terrible tricks on women, the bandits," added chubby cheeks. And the men laughed louder and elbowed one another. "Safer to go with us."

Mori looked up from her work. Smiled. Needle and thread went back in her bundle. She stood and fixed her straw hat on her head. "As the priests say," she said, "All worldly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, and that is suffering. Bandits are to be expected." She gave a nod and turned away from the men. She would follow the narrow track through the trees, seeing the deeper shadows to either side, the pale grays deepening to black, smelling the sweet, flowery scent of the cryptomerias, the gentle rustle of a breeze through the trees.

Behind her, the silence of the men burst into laughter.

The sun now low, just above the horizon, gulls turning, looping on the sea breeze. Elizabeth stood in the middle of the yard listening to the heave of swell meeting shore. She wrapped her sweater tighter around her and folded her arms across her chest. Wood smoke, rather ... what was the word? Acerbic? A bit biting in the nostrils. What could that fellow be burning up on his hillside? Clearing a place for his fancy new house. A blight, no doubt. Grace was dismayed to see all the trees cleared. She had made their rice with spicy broccoli and a bit a red sweet pepper. Tomorrow she would be gone. Her man was in Eureka, the worse for wear apparently, and she was going down to lick his wounds.
Elizabeth frowned.
"Well, that phrase sounds wrong, now doesn't it," she said. After a defeat, one might lick one's ... sounds a bit salacious the way I ... Doesn't know how long she'll be gone. Not too long. "Men," she said. Little boys with their toys.
A pall of smoke swirled off the hillside then eddied across the highway caught in the southerly sea breeze.

Monday, August 6, 2018

III - 11

Brown Brackish Water

She tossed the sheet and blanket back across the bed, swung her legs off the mattress, put her feet on the floor. Rain seemed to hammer at the roof, wind chimes sounding their dings and tings and thumps and knocks, the hum and whistle of gusts under the eaves. Sitting round shouldered on the edge of the mattress, hunched up, hands on knees, she closed her eyes against the dizziness, felt the sharp sudden pain from her thumb joint. She clasped her hands and massaged the round ball of her thumb.
Blowing a gale. And what's that for wind speed? Admiral fellow, did the chart for wind speed and sea state. A real frog strangler. Gully washer. "What time is it?" she said. The luminescent numbers of the clock on her nightstand were a blur. "Put your eyes on, old woman." Slippers. Robe.
Mori wearing her ragged old bamboo hat walking the woods in the rain. Soaked to the skin. Was she fifty? Just a child. Fairly old though for the 15th century. And blind. Off on her own. Returning to Shiomachi. Waiting for the tide. "How did she manage?"
Elizabeth sat listening to the rain and the chimes. Standing, she tottered on bare feet across the room to her desk. Lit a sandlewood pillar candle, short and squat. Lowered herself into her chair. Sighed. A block of cedar weighted the Mori manuscript. Her feet cold. Poor circulation to the extremities these days. So where are my ...
"I should read the end again. The style is off putting." A bad translation? Too literal Grace had said. The Japanese had a good deal more fluidity. "My Japanese is not quite up to snuff. Get a sense of what she means, though. Ah, well. "It is what it is." Mekura no Geisha no Monogatari. Tales of a Blind Geisha. Travel diary, more like. She shuffled paper, found her place, and read:

We met after the accident. The other singers and I were in the little temple on the hillside. We heard a loud crack, a thump and distinct groan. Ikkyu san had been raking the path down the hillside below the temple. The poor man was felled by a falling limb, and was badly bruised. Perhaps a bone in his back was cracked. We bathed him. One of the ladies applied her moxa treatment to his shoulder. He was all skin and bones. A small man, we carried him to his room on a shutter, the Abbot chattering like a frightened bird as he shuffled alongside.

When the other ladies left to return to Kyoto, I stayed on. He was not helpless, but more nearly hapless. He talked in his sleep. Mumbled. Was embarrassed by his nakedness in the bath. Better when he started writing again. The way he would squat down and peer closely at his stone as he mixed his ink. His brushes were rather worn. But how deftly he wielded them. Strong bold characters. His strength returned, his confidence. That square, stern face with a grin waiting behind a glare ...

We would travel to Kyoto soon, he said. If the soldiers would allow it. We would be companions apparently. A given in Ikkyu's mind. In two days, he said, the rain will stop. When the fog moves through the valley from the lake, we will follow the fog down the river. And so we did.

They had walked the road this morning, Bess and Grace, following the little creek through the swale of drifted sand to sit in a hollow in the lee of driftwood and flotsam, the detritus washed ashore by the ineluctable tides. Fog hung off-shore, not effected by the wind streaming around the distant headland. Gulls and terns looped the eddies, squawking.
"You read Micki's story then?" Elizabeth had asked. She wore a sunbleached, wide brimmed straw hat that tied loosely beneath her chin.
"I did. Fairly well written. Short, and the ending comes a bit abruptly, but good enough, all in all. Was it autobiography? Was she a photographer, too?"
Ebb tide. Elizabeth watched the efforts of the waves as they swirled up the beach. "Her mother was. Or pretended to be. She wasn't. I think it was merely subterfuge. She had a dance instructor who gave her the vapors. Him, I think."
The vapors, thought Grace, really? "But the nudity was her theme, wasn't it? Weston did many nudes."
"Yes. Ostensibly the nudity." Elizabeth raised her index finger and wagged it at Grace. "But there is abuse lurking behind it all, Grace. Mustn't miss that bit. And sex. Sex and violence. Always that."
Grace nodded her understanding. "And is sexuality inherent in the nudity or not?"
"That is the question. She was, or pretended to be, rather uninhibited."
"If a pretense, nudity is difficult to bring off. There is always a stiffness."
Elizabeth patted Grace's knee. "No pretense with you, child. You walk about here naked as a jaybird like it's your natural state. Quite lovely. Not the least bit awkward."
"But Micki?"
"All for show I'm afraid."
"And the story?"
"An attempt to reconcile the conflict? Or should we say 'conflicts'?"
They sat and watched pipers and killdeers play the loops of tide, feeding.
"Bernard says that when planing a piece of wood, the plane will jump and chatter when pushing against the grain. People are like that, he thinks. Probably most people."
Elizabeth smiled. "Bernar-d said that? Not just another pretty face then?"
"Sailor's face. Ruddy and weathered."
"And he weathered his storm, did he?"
Grace squinted against the sunlight looking out to sea. "They are still afloat, yes. A bit battered. There's a Coast Guard station near Eureka. Making for there."
Further up the beach, near the point, a group of children filed noisily onto the beach.
"I do hope he's all right," Elizabeth said, patting the young woman's arm.

Micki's Story

The clutter of the studio made her uneasy. She wished to straighten and dust. The books and folders were all in disarray. Photographs. An old pizza box. He had forbidden her to touch anything. This wasn’t her place, he said. It was his. Leave things be.
He had pushed books and papers aside to open the slender volume of black and white photographs. Simple it was; yet elegant. Just as the photographs were. Dancers. All nudes, or mostly so. Not erotica. Curves and shadows.
They don’t say anything,” she said.
Listen harder.”
O cute. There’s no context here. Just pictures.”
Photographs. Context all inclusive.”
What? Like paintings?”
Abstracts, smear of paint and an onion skin. That sort of thing?”
They don’t say anything either. The nudes like the morgue on TV. They make me shiver.”
Look at this one.”
They looked. The silence grew slowly palpable. She fidgeted at the buttons of her blouse. Her frazzled auburn hair framed a pale face, green eyes. An image of some too thin young girl surreptitiously picking at her wedged leotard made him smile. He shifted his weight away from her. His hands found the pockets of his coat.
Is it erotic? Do you think? Men see things different,” she said.
She over bit her bottom lip and tilted her head towards him. Her hand touched his arm.
She’s a little thin. Do I look like that? What do you think? Is she sexy?”
Umm. If you want it to be.”
That’s no answer.”
Well, it’s not about sex. Not in the conventional sense.”
Everything’s about sex. Or money. So nudes sell. Western makes money. That it?”
No what?”
It’s not about money.”
I give up. So then what is it about?”
Who’s on first.”
Nope. He’s on second.”
Who’s on second?”
Nope. Who’s on first.”
Well, who is?”
He was laughing then and shaking his head. She turned to face him, and slapped him open handed on the shoulder.
Aren’t we the superior one.”
Come on," he said, "let’s get started. You've got kinks in your number to work out."
She frowned and slumped.
He slapped her on the buttocks. "Move it Tumblelina."
She cursed. Closed her eyes and moved to the center of the room.
It was raining again, streams of water slithering through the window grime.

Elizabeth dozed at her desk with her head cradled on her folded arms. She had elbowed her glasses to the floor. On the bookshelf across the end wall, the flame of the scented candled flickered. The hard rain had passed and drizzle now eddied about the house with the wind lessening, becoming flukey, undecided. As her lower back tightened, the sharp sciatic pain would soon waken her. She slept on fitfully, dreaming of a flooded, mud covered town with listless souls wandering through abandoned buildings kneedeep in brown, brackish water.