The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

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The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

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In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

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On Writing

There is a difference between writing facts and writing fiction. When you write facts, you write about things you have seen, experienced and felt. When you write fiction, you write about things you have invented, or imagined. On the other hand when you write imagined facts as though they were truths… well that’s either lying or you’re just copying and pasting other real writers’ stuff! lol

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This is basically the difference between being a writer, and being a mere ‘content filler’. 

I’ve had a number of offers, both locally and pertaining to online media, where either betting companies, or news-rags, just needed someone to fill-in some pages, either with adverts full of pre-determined phrases and compliments towards their products, or where the job consisted of just researching stuff online and putting it forward in another format. And I rejected them all. I’m not an automated content filler. I LOVE writing as a way of expression and a way to share my experiences and the things and places I love. So, no, I will never reduce writing and my capabilities to doing a mere job which any machine can do.

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Brandon Sanderson, when explaining the difference between a writer and a content-filler, gives the metaphor of the difference between a cook and a chef. The cook just wants to do a job, he follows a recipe to the detail, mechanically, always the same, and produces a cheese burger. The chef on the other hand, wants to express himself, he wants to create, he wants to change and evolve. He doesn’t mindlessly pour four ingredients into a mixing bowl to produce food, he wants to pour himself into something which others will love, and which will change them in turn. And that is the difference between a content filler and a writer.

A content filler is there for the money. He doesn’t create anything. He copies and pastes. That’s easy.

A writer is writing because he not only enjoys it for its own sake, but because he NEEDS to write, in order to feel complete. Each time he writes, his emotions and experiences pour onto the page and fill it with character and color. This leaves part of him into everything he writes and creates. It is not easy, but it is fulfilling, interesting and wonderful.

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Each time someone asks me if I’m interested in a job as a content filler either using my own blog (this one) or their own magazine/website, I admit that I pause, and I admit that this is because of the pay. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need money? But the thing is, I have a good career and a good wage, and I never wrote for the money itself (though yes I do get paid), but mostly I write because I love it and I write only about things which interest me. So that is my priority, and each time I receive one of these offers, THIS is why I say no, and why I will continue to do so. And this is what I suggests writers – those who love to write and do it to express themselves, to do.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell your art, because even if you say you are going to do it ‘once’, you will end up doing it again and again and in the end have no time to write what you really want.

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Write what you feel. Write about where you go, what you see, and about what happens to you. Write about your hobbies, your passions, your life. Don’t write fictions as though they were fact just because you are paid to – because yes readers DO notice the difference between those articles/stories which communicate real passion and real experiences, as opposed to the arid ones which just repeat already coined phrases ad infinitum.

It’s not easy, but in the end, it all boils down to your priorities. And to whether you are a real writer or not of course! 🙂 

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How I deal with Depression

When I’m in a bad place (emotionally speaking) I always turn to things which comfort me. This summer, I could not turn to comfort food, since I am trying to keep track of my calories. I did turn to my one and only, however I really did not want to be too clingy – the poor guy needs his space after single-handedly taking care of all the house chores, etc for the past two and a half-months, so I had to lay off in that sense. And that, of course, left ‘comfort-books‘!

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Some books are a guilty pleasure. As the years roll by, I read them again and again at studious intervals, associating certain books or book series to certain mind-sets. Now, don’t laugh at me, but I actually have a book which I like to read each year when the first big storm hits after an arid summer. The book in question is ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith. There is also a series of books I read when I’m feeling particularly witty or frolicksome (mainly Neil Gaiman), and books I just love to read at Christmas-time, because, you know, they put me in the mood. Whenever I am about to travel on holiday, I also try to find books with a story based in that particular country, and I always manage it! I really had a field day when I went to Venice (why do books set in Venice always seem to be erotic romances?), and of course, the UK is easy. And so on.

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Since this summer was a terrible one for me, as I had to spend most of it in bed and in pain due to health issues, I obviously gravitated towards those books which comforted me. The 10-book part series I read, is the one which first introduced me to epic fantasy books, and the one which made me fall in love with that style of writing when I was 13 years old. I am speaking about David Edding’s Belgariad (first five books) and Mallorean (another 5 books).

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Recently I discovered that these book series are considered to be YA. They were actually written in the 1980s, a time when the term and concept of YA novels wasn’t thought of yet. So even though some readers may consider them to be YA, I do not, as they are certainly not as vapid, mediocre or predictable as YA books usually are (yup, you got me, I hate YA books in general, though there are exceptions).

The plot is basically a bildunsgroman, that is, a coming of age story. We see Garion, a naive boy living on a farm, realize that the world, and the people around him are, and were never, what he believed them to be. The world is complicated, mysterious and wonderful, and Garion finds that he himself is a very special person, destined to change the course of the known world forever. I am not going to go into any more details as I do not want to give any spoilers. Suffice it to say that I really love the cast of characters presented by Eddings. Their repetitive banter may irritate one after a while – still I read all the 10 books in around 3 weeks (remember I’m house-bound here), so one must take that into account. The books are not as lengthy as the tomes I am used to, and the old Maltese Pound price tags attached to the covers make me even more nostalgic, remembering how happy I was about buying these first books out of my own pocket money. Books which, for the first time, no one had chosen for me because they were ‘what children read’, but which I had chosen for myself, deviating from the norm. 

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If you haven’t read the Belgarion and the Mallorean, I strongly suggest you do. They are not as popular or well-known as book series like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ or George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (Game of Thrones), but they are still worth a read. Then again, I’m biased, hehe…

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January Round-Up – Book Reviews

FINALLY, I have fifteen minutes’ time to sit down, take a breath, and write the round-up of the books I read in January. It’s been an unbelievably hectic week, and what’s more, it promises to be quite a hectic weekend too, so I’d better get down to it before I fall asleep at the desk.

January has been a good month in that I got hold of quite a few interesting books, some of which I’d had my eye on for a bit. I read a grand total of ten books, which is not too bad, though I admit some of them were not as long as I would have liked. So, here goes:

1 The Moth – Catherine Cookson – 1 star out of 5
I started out the year by deciding to try and read something by this author, since I had previously watched a couple of movies transposed from her novels. The movies are maudlin and depressing, but I thought maybe the novels would be better…? No such luck, apart from being disgustingly predictable, the ‘heroine’ is nothing less than the usual damsel in distress, the ‘hero’ is the ‘charming man of low class’, and of course, though set in rural England, the story-line is completely boring. 

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2 The Interpretation of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld3 Stars out of 5
Lovers of the Agatha Christie/Sherlock mysteries will love this one. Not to mention those who have studied, either professionally or in an amateurish way (as in my case) the theories of Sigmund Freud. Basically, a string of strange crimes and murders are investigated by a young psychoanalyst, who’s also a student of Freud. The plotline is quite good, but what I really loved was the apparent research and dedication the writer shows when describing America in the very early 20th century.

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3 The Rottweiler – Ruth Rendell3 Stars out of 5
I just love anything by Ruth Rendell. The way she portrays her characters, and especially her study of the main character, which is usually the serial killer himself, is truly revealing. Creating a net of everyday happenings, while introducing a number of characters, most of whom all know each other, Rendell creates an enthralling and unsettling landscape where you realize each person you know, in the end, has something to hide.

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4 The Green Mile – Stephen King4 Stars out of 5
I had watched the movie before, and I must be frank, read the book too, but it was such a long time ago, that I decided to refresh my memory a bit. And boy, was I glad I did. King’s suspenseful novels are always a joy, and this one in particular is pretty different from his usual work since there is hardly anything of the supernatural or fantastical in it. It is mostly a portrayal of racism, friendship, love, human behavior, not to mention a stark critique of society which leaves the reader feeling as though he’ll never be the same again after he’s read it.

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5. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald2 Stars out of 5
Ok, I know this is supposed to be like ‘the great American novel’, but seriously, I did not like the pace of writing, and the style much. I admit, if I hadn’t watched the movie before, I would have liked it even less. Yes, I get that it’s a portrayal of society’s hypocritical behavior, but still… I don’t know, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

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6 – 10 – The other five books I read this month were five novels collected in one single thick volume which I finally managed to purchase online. The volume is in beautiful hard cover and all the novels in it are by the horror writer Susan Hill. These are:

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Dolly – This novel had much promise but when I finished it, I felt as though the author could have been more specific or given us at least a partial answer to the weird happenings… 2 Stars out of 5

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The Man in the Picture – This one was my favorite out of Hill’s five novels, it is evocative of Wilde’s ‘Picture of Dorian Grey’, as well as portraying decadent Venice and its masked balls, which is a subject which always wins me over…. 4 Stars out of 5

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Printer Devil’s Court – Hmm I’m of two minds regarding this one. Again, I think it could have been explored more… 2 Stars out of 5

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The Small Hand – Not bad, a ‘traditional’ ghost story with an old mansion, a man with a troubled past, and an unreliable narrator. 3 Stars out of 5

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The Woman in Black – Yes of course I’ve watched the movie with Radcliffe, and the novel is much more toned down than that, still the atmosphere and the writing were breathtaking, though not as good, I think, as The Man in the Picture. So, 3 Stars out of 5

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And that’s it! Right now I’m reading a book about Celtic Lore and Wicca, so it’s not a novel, but I will still include it in my February round-up next month. To be honest, I think the next round up will contain less books than this one, since I will be going to Germany for a week soon, and I doubt I will be reading much during that time as I will be too busy sightseeing!

After Alice by Gregory Maguire – Review

We all know The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Penned by Oxford Professor Lewis Carroll (whose real name was actually Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1865, this quirky children’s fantasy has inspired multitudes of adaptations, movies, artworks, music and even fashion styles.

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Having been an avid fan and reader of Gregory Maguire ever since I read his novel Wicked, which had inspired the popular musical, and his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is an adaptation of Cinderella, I immediately jumped at the chance to read his latest work, After Alice. As is apparent from the title itself, the story is inspired in part by Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, and yet, Alice is NOT in fact the narrator or the main character.

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We meet Ada, Alice’s neighbor, who was in fact very briefly mentioned by Alice herself in the eponymous tale. Ada is a troubled child, constrained by Victorian precepts and tenets and by her unconventional household. In hushed whispers, we hear that her mother is a drunk and possibly suffering from postnatal depression. Her father, the Vicar, scarcely takes any notice of her, her baby brother is a squalling brat, and her governess is a simpering fool. In short, Ada has to fend for herself. Her only friend is Alice, whom, Ada discovers, has disappeared.

Maguire paints a very vivid picture of Victorian England. On the one hand, we travel with a surprised Ada to Wonderland, trying to catch up with Alice whilst encountering the consequences of her passage. On the other hand, we also meet Lydia, Alice’s older sister, throughout whose eyes we face such issues as the slave trade, women’s rights, and the British Victorian mentality. Fantasy is interposed with reality in a very interesting narrative. Picturesque and informative, Maguire’s style is nostalgic to Carroll’s, and yet totally his own.

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Now for the negative part – I must be honest, I have mixed feelings regarding this novel. I started reading it with very high expectations, having previously already been wowed by Maguire’s fairytale adaptations, his ingenuity, creativity and whimsical perspective. Also, being an avid Alice in Wonderland aficionado, I generally try to read, watch, or purchase anything related to my favorite fairytale. While Maguire’s story was marvellously written and illuminating with regards to Victorian society and beliefs, I found it sadly lacking with regards to the Wonderland part of the narrative.

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Carroll’s iconic Wonderland is spectacularly special because it simply makes no sense. As the Cheshire Cat once maintains in Alice in Wonderland, “We are all mad here.” And that is the beauty of Wonderland and the point of fantasy and fairytales – they’re not realistic, because they don’t have to be. Maguire on the other hand, tries to make sense of Wonderland, introducing puns and explanations where none are needed. Wherever he cannot find an explanation, he merely copies characters, situations and almost entire dialogues from Carroll’s original novel.

This article has been published on EVE.COM.MT – If you want to read the complete review, please goto – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/18/after-alice-a-book-review/

Book Review – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Have you ever been curious about your partner’s ex? Have you ever felt even just a little bit envious of the times they shared with your beloved, the way they knew him when he was younger, or perhaps different from how he is today? Or worse, have you ever suspected your partner might still have feelings for them, or that what they feel for you may not be as strong as their past relationship?

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) is a novel which explores such feelings. It is a book about obsession – not the obsessive all-pervading feeling of love, but the obsessiveness of envy, hate, and the morbid fascination of a wife for her husband’s ex. Rebecca, in fact, is not as one might suppose,the name of the narrator, but the name of Mr de Winter’s first wife. The deceased, elusive, sophisticated, beautiful Rebecca, whom the reader, and in fact the narrator, never meets, but who nonetheless haunts every page, every moment, every thought.

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This novel was groundbreaking in its time, and still continues to be so for a number of reasons. First of all, for example, the actual name of the narrator and main character is never mentioned. We always hear her being referred to as “the second Mrs de Winter”, but we never get to know her real name. This is very important, as it denotes that the narrator herself suffered from such low self-esteem, and gave herself so little importance, that her own individuality is barely glossed over in the overall scheme of things. Another factor is that the narrator, we realize, is not actually the real main character.

The main character is in fact Rebecca.

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When the young naive narrator meets and marries Maximilian de Winter, the wealthy landowner of the notorious mansion of Manderley, she knows that he’d been previously married, and that his first wife had died in a boating accident some time before. This however leaves her unprepared for the fact that back home at Manderley, all the servants, neighbors, and acquaintances still miss and look up to her husband’s first wife – a peerless socialite, beautiful, intelligent, brave and helpful. The perfect woman, wife and partner. Her husband won’t speak of her, and flies into a rage every time she’s mentioned. The housekeeper emphatizes the fact that Mrs de Winter had always wanted things managed just so, as though she’s still there, and Rebecca’s clothes, her monogrammed stationary, even her room, is left untouched. The house is still hers, as is the neighborhood, and the narrator comes to believe that even the man she married cannot possibly have gotten over his previous marriage. She feels like everyone is comparing her to her predecessor, and finding her wanting. The novel is beautifully written, rendering the reader to empathize with the narrator, and slowly becomes convinced – as she does – that something is not right and not quite as it seems.

The rest of this article was published on EVE.COM.MT and can be read here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/12/rebecca-by-daphne-du-maurier-a-review/ 

If a Sequel is not written by the original Author, it is NOT a Sequel

This is something which personally I never had to wonder about, but which, I realised yesterday, some people seem to misconceive.

What is the difference between a sequel and a fanfic?

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Is ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’, which is the book which comes after ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, a sequel? Well, of course it is, since it was written directly by the same author, Lewis Carroll, and continues the journey of the main character, Alice.

Are ‘Good Wives’ and ‘Little Men’ sequels to ‘Little Women’? Of course they are, as all of them were written by the same author, Louisa May Alcott, and follow the March family throughout the years.

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Is Robin Hobb’s ‘Rain Wild Chronicles’ a sequel to the ‘Farseer Trilogy’ and the ‘Liveship Traders Trilogy’, even though its not about the same people? Yes it is, because it is set in the same world, tackles events which obviously take place after the other books and which have an impact on them, and because it is WRITTEN BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

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On the other hand, what about books like P.D James’ ‘Death comes to Pemberley’, which was written as an obvious sequel to ‘Pride and Prejudice’? Do you really consider it a sequel? The time-frames are right, and the writer is good, but it’s not written by the original author is it? The flavor is totally different. And what about Alexandra Rippley’s ‘Scarlett’, which was written as a sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’? The realistic feelings of loss and hope in the face of desperation are totally lost to a whiny prima donna who does not capture the original heroine’s spirit in the least. So, written right or written wrong, no I personally DO NOT CONSIDER BOOKS WRITTEN BY A DIFFERENT AUTHOR AS PREQUELS, not even if they do take up the original story-line and move forward from there. For me, that is pure fan fiction. Which has a totally different niche in the literary world, and which I like to read at times too. But which is distinctly different from a REAL SEQUEL, if you know what I mean.

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I hear you ask, what about Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series? Jordan got sick (in fact he wrote a couple of his books while bed-ridden) in the middle of it and the last few volumes were in fact written by Brandon Sanderson – so are those real sequels? Yes they are. Why? Because Sanderson not only used the original notes minutely written and explained by Jordan, but he also continued with the original story-line as decided by Jordan, and developed the characters as Jordan had originally planned.

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On the other hand, look at the Virginia Andrews franchise. Virginia Andrews only actually wrote 6 books before dying. The ‘Flowers in the Attic’ saga (prequel included) and the standalone novel ‘My Sweet Audrina’. After that, her family said they were using another writer to work with her notes, but keeping her name on the books. Because the notes were hers. Really? I read a couple of the books which ‘came after’, and honestly couldn’t see a glimmer of Virginia. On the other hand, the ‘new’ books tackled totally new and different characters and formed up new serieses, so they never aimed at being ‘sequels’ to anything. All they did was keep alive V.A’s name, and that’s fine.

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I guess a person’s definition of a ‘sequel’ can be different depending on his/her point of view. However, for me, no ‘sequel’ is real unless it is written by the same author as the previous book/s.

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All the rest, no matter how well written, thought out and executed, are fanfics. And there is nothing wrong with that. As long as the distinction is clear.

And honestly, whenever I hear of a ‘sequel’ to something good being made (by someone else apart from the original creator), be it in books or movies, I am terrified they are going to destroy and twist the whole plot-line entirely. Think about the rumors of ‘Labyrinth 2’! *sobs*

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Before Tea Time

She had stolen mother’s lipstick. Her crimson gash of a mouth was stretched in a satisfied smirk. Her dirty bitten finger-nailed hands opened and closed slightly as she held D. My treasure. My hope. My friend.

I asked her to let her go.
First, I asked her softly. Tears hidden. Lips rubbery.
Second, I asked her mockingly. Hands behind my back. Flawless syntax.
Third, I asked her forcefully. Cheeks cherry with rage. Feet shuffling.

She only laughed.

I rushed at her and it was over suddenly. That bubble gum face disappearing down the stairs. The surprisingly tepid thump as she hit the bottom. Those clutching hands, broken, lifeless under a twisted back.

I looked at Dolly. Dolly looked at me. A wave of love and compassion stole over me. Poor dear had her hair all plastered to her head. Time for some tidying up.doll

© Melisande Moonsong

This is a quick piece of flash fiction I wrote for the ‘Ad Hoc Fiction Competition‘. Don’t really expect to win anything, but it was fun to do.

No One

I admit, at first not existing was kind of hard to get used to. 

No one saw me as I crossed the street. No one nodded to me as I passed the store. No dog barked at me while I wandered around the windy park. No one smiled faintly as I stopped to grin at a comic poster. No one even noticed when my skirt blew up so high that my underwear showed.

I guess that’s when I started tackling non-existence as a comodity, rather than a curse.

I didn’t need to get up early. Didn’t need to brush my hair, put on any make up, or even wear decent clothes. No one saw me anyway. I just wasn’t there.

I didn’t need to be polite to the person waiting before me for the bus. Hell, I didn’t even need to stay in the queue. Or pay the bus fare. 

No one scowled at me because I had left the window open. No one muttered because I had forgotten to bring the ketchup on the table. No one told me I was not good enough, when I didn’t know where they had left their car keys the day before. No one pawed at me while wiggling smelly body parts, as I tried to watch a movie. No one even tried to bite and hurt me, because of some ‘remark’ they did not like.

No one belittled me or berated me ‘jokingly’ because I didn’t read their minds and know what they wanted beforehand. No one ‘forgot’ to mention my name or that I even existed when talking to their friends, when in fact I did. Now, I truly was not there, so it didn’t bother me not to be mentioned. There is no one to mention.

I have gotten used to not existing now. I do not even feel bad about it. It is a relief really.

Existing is so much harder.

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XVII – The Moon

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She saw her face washing away every night. Slowly. A little bit at a time. It disappeared. Pieces of luminous skin sloughing away with each passing wave. Gelatinous breezes hurrying up the process.

She didn’t know why. She didn’t know when it had begun. For as long as she remembered, this interminable murder of feeling had been inexorably whittling away at her being. At her very self.

Had she done something wrong? Hadn’t she been punished enough? Cruelly, the shifting mirror never told her any truth but this. Piece by piece, slice by slice, her form carved away a little bit at a time. Again and again.

Running. Always running. Towards something, or from someone. Moving forward or backwards in the vast confines of an eternal blackness. Feeling the mysterious pull of liquid infinity.

Until there was The Nothing.

Darkness interminable.

And then, a small ray of hope in the dwindling emptiness. Growing bigger, a small piece at a time, until again, there she was. Crying, looking around her in destructive solitude. Clawing at her inescapable faith with a glassy stare.

Mute. Unkowing. Unknown.