The Writers Circle
This page features work by the Writers’ Circle, which which meets one evening a month. Members and their guests with an interest in writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama are welcome. Members wishing to be put on the contact list may check the LAMPSletter for contact information.
by Carole Wilson
Think quietly, talk gently, listen to the story
Hear the birds, the children, don’t worry
With an open heart, you must not hurry
Go slow, see friends, no need to scurry
There could be problems along the way
Stress distracts from what’s urgent today
Things that bother you can ruin your day
Good today, is better than bad yesterday
Have peace of mind, and feel good inside
Do things that make you feel alive, decide
You are not perfect and not for everyone
But you have huge value, second to none
Unstrained Quality of Mercy
January 9, 2023
The following is dedicated to the unfortunate folks who lost their lives while marooned in their cars, and those who left their cars, and homes, and collapsed on snowbanks during the unprecedented brutal blizzard that attacked Erie County on December 24, 2022.
This brutal climatic attack began a couple of days prior to Christmas Eve, stopped and again began pounding Erie County through Christmas. The casualties of this tragedy came very close to including members of my immediate family. It was a miracle they didn’t become a statistic, thanks to the Spirits of Hannukah and Christmas, as well as the essence of love, kindness, and humanity being alive and well in the surrounds of Buffalo, NY.
On December 23rd my daughter Pri and son-in-law Sri, after having already loaded up their Volvo SUV with gifts for family and friends in Toronto, had to postpone their drive to Toronto in light of reports of Buffalo being in the final stages of a snowstorm. In addition to Christmas, the 24th is my better half’s birthday, and my 7 and 2 ½ year old granddaughters were looking forward to this annual ritual, but quickly managed to overcome their disappointment. Normally the drive from Pepper Pike, a suburb of Cleveland, to Toronto takes about 4 ½ hours, and driving the next day would still provide of plenty of time to be part of the birthday celebrations.
December 24th dawned as a bright and clear day in Pepper Pike. Sri phoned New York Border Control folks, who gave him the all clear for the drive. The family was in a festive mood, there was excitement, but no rush, as the SUV was already packed. The drive to Toronto finally started around 2:00 PM, after a leisurely lunch.
The drive on the highway through Ohio and Pennsylvania was quite uneventful. The fun and games started upon crossing over to New York. Interstate I-90 had been closed down due to inclement weather conditions ahead, and drivers were redirected to side roads to the north, along the lake through wine country.
Snow conditions on the roads kept getting progressively worse, and en route entrances to the I-90 continued to be closed. Approaching the suburbs of Buffalo, and in acknowledgement of the steadily worsening weather conditions, it was decided to give up trying to reach Toronto that evening, and spend the night in the vicinity. Pri phoned to let us know, and we too didn’t keep her too long to help conserve their cell phones’ power It turned out all hotels and motels in Buffalo and Erie County were completely full. Necessity being the mother of brilliant ideas, Pri had a brain wave – to take shelter in any major hospital nearby. A quick search on the internet turned up the Buffalo General Hospital, approximately 12 miles away according to Waze, and that is where they headed.
Weather conditions continued to get progressively worse. Snowfall got heavier, the wind picked up, and visibility started to deteriorate. The middle of the afternoon turned into a middle of the night dark. Driving along in the mounting snow they encountered a Ford Explorer SUV stopped in the middle of the road, facing the direction they were coming from. Sri stopped, and rolled down the window, to inquire about their welfare. This was the start of the first of many “stranger than fiction” occurrences that combined to save seven lives. Doreen, the driver of the Explorer, replied “We are okay, just trying to decide which way to go”. She also told Sri “The direction you are headed is probably best, as there are snow plows up ahead”. She then made a U turn and overtook the Volvo.
A few minutes of driving later Sri noticed the Explorer attempting a three-point turn up ahead wending her way through several cars stopped helter skelter on the road, with the road ahead blocked by a truck and a snow plow. The truck driver told Sri “This should be cleared in the next hour at the latest”. However, Pri had difficulty believing him. While processing this, Pri noticed a Bobcat had stopped behind them. Giving rise to panic about the real danger of being boxed in she persuaded Sri into quickly maneuvering a U turn. They raced to catch up to Doreen, and stopped her to discuss next steps. Turned out that Doreen was a registered nurse from Pennsylvania, en route to start a new job at Buffalo General the next day. After getting over his shocked relief, Sri told her about their shared destination, obtained her cell number, and requested to be allowed to follow her, since she was on the phone with the hospital, getting directions on best alternate routes.
As they drove the snowfall quickly turned into a blinding blizzard, with winds reaching speeds of over 70 mph. The resulting whiteout conditions reduced visibility to worse than zero, due to the headlights reflecting off the swirling snow. Pri was trying hard to control her panic, so as not to traumatize the little girls. Soon both vehicles got stuck. With some backing and forthing the Explorer was extricated, but Sri’s smaller SUV needed help. Stumbling to the Explorer for help, for the first time Sri noticed there was another couple in the Explorer. With the help of the husband in the couple, the Volvo was freed, and they got going again. At this point Pri gave up and dialed 911. The responder explained their inability to come out for the next 16 to 20 hours at the least. The 911 people recommended staying put, and running the car every 10 minutes for heat. A palpable impossibility. Great thing Pri and Sri didn’t take the advice. The next day it was discovered that all those who did take that advice were found frozen to death in their cars.
By now both vehicles were about two miles from Buffalo General. Turning a corner, both vehicles got stuck again. Once again Doreen managed to free the larger Explorer, and gunned off, whereas the Volvo remained irretrievably stuck in the deep snow. Watching the departing Explorer, and the immovability of the Volvo, finally gave rise to total panic in the SUV. At this distance it is simply not possible to appreciate the gravity of the situation. All I could think “It is only a snowfall. Why not walk out and take shelter”, without realizing the more than four feet of snow blanketing the road. It is the same as looking the wrong way through binoculars. Everything affecting oneself is magnified, and afflictions of others shrink, and seem so small.
In full panic mode they phoned Doreen who, bless her soul, immediately stopped, got out of the Explorer, and asked them to abandon the Volvo, and come join them. In the ten seconds that Pri had before evacuating, she managed to grab the passports, diapers, and the cell phone chargers, and stumbled through the fast-rising snow levels, tripping along to finally arrive at the Explorer which, by another providential coincidence was a seven-seater! In the Explorer the other couple, Mrs. and Mr. Singh, of course turned out to be Punjabis. Upon realizing that Pri too was a fellow Punjabi, the couple poured their hearts out.
The Singhs had been stuck in their store, without food or electricity for the previous two days, and had decided to walk two blocks to a relative’s store, which had power and was already sheltering fifty people. The walk to the other store, through the waist-high snow, proved to be more arduous than expected, and soon the lady collapsed in the snow drift. She implored her husband to leave her to her fate, and save himself. Of course, he did not agree and encouraged her by announcing a change in strategy. They were going to try and hitch a ride instead. Miraculously, the lady got a spurt of energy, got up and the both of them somehow reached the road. Finally, a car came by, but refused to stop. Another car came by after a while, stopped, took a look at the brown couple, and drove off without them. Depressed, disheartened, and desperate, ready to accept the inevitable, they half-heartedly waved at the next vehicle, which turned out to be Doreen’s.
The conversation was halted by the SUV jerking to a halt. The windshield wipers had packed up. The blizzard was continuing unabated. Woefully, conditions got more (grammatically incorrect, but descriptive) worse. Sri and the other gentleman took turns cleaning the windscreen manually, and directing Doreen, who was rendered totally blind by the whiteout. By then snow on the road had risen to above waist level. The Explorer’s tires could not get traction any longer. Both Sri and Mr. Singh were forced to come out. Armed with their hands and a snow brush, they marched ahead of the SUV clearing a path for the wheels and directing Doreen. Life was reduced to pushing aside the snow from in front of the tires, jumping back into the Explorer, gunning the vehicle until it came to a stop, defeated by the snow, jumping out again and repeating the process in soaking wet clothes. Leave only describing their ordeal, I can’t even begin to imagine it. Mercifully, they eventually, somehow, reached the safety of Buffalo General’s parking lot, with frost-bitten fingers. A tiny price for having reached sanctuary alive.
Once inside the hospital Pri quickly did a complete investigation of the premises and found two empty lounges on the fourth-floor surgery, which quickly became their fantastic new camping home. At least they told the children that. Stuffed chairs were joined to make camp beds for the girls, and then Pri went looking for food for the girls. She finally found the vending machines, but they turned out to be out of order. That is when the next miracle occurred. Pri was approached by Mary, an orderly, who confirmed the machines were kaput and the cafeteria, too was closed. As she turned to leave, Pri wished her a Merry Christmas.
Mary called her back, and asked what was it that she was looking for. Pri responded “Just cereal for my little daughters”.
“Stay here” ordered Mary as she disappeared.
About twenty minutes later she came back with cereal, apples, bread, and other assorted nourishment, and left before she could be properly thanked. Mary reappeared after another twenty minutes, bearing sheets, blankets, pillows, and surgical socks. Could there ever have been a more wonderous Santa?
Soon after, Mr. Singh beckoned Sri over. As soon as they got comfortable, he produced a partially full bottle of Remy Martin. Apparently, as he was leaving the shop for the snow-filled freezing, yonder, he had grabbed two bottles of Remy Martin. Who else but a Punjabi would have kept his priorities in order in such trying circumstances! He had presented one to Doreen, and I suspect the partial part of the other one was responsible for the miraculous revival of Mrs. Singh.
The next day was Christmas, and Pri tried her best to rustle up some presents for the girls. Just as the girls were getting into the spirit, Mary appeared with proper, wrapped presents for the girls. Could anyone outside of Hollywood have actually scripted this!
The Bard had it right, “All’s well that ends well”. However, as we approach the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, it is sobering to realize that, in spite of all our advances and inventions, modern man is still equally at the mercy of the elements, as was pre-historic man, who anthropomorphized these elements into Gods, to propitiate. Everything connected with life continues to be as tenuous as always.
Anything is Possible
Martin JonesBliss after death sounds
rather quite jolly
though how can it last
given frail human folly?
In very small doses
leaving millennia free
to frolic with wine
and with roses.
might prove a deterrence,
but to what,
is not really clear.
Or perhaps we should face
the sad admonition
that our sector of space
is just waste information
a hologram, or even much worse,
some grand cosmic geek’s
weekend of fun –
the slyest of game simulations.
What more can be pronounced upon this
but perhaps a prayer, the simple sounds one
the thoughts that gather as the sparrows in
boughs at evening light.
Sun rose as promised, 7:03, and the streetcar
arrived at eight,
you waved goodbye on the front door stoop
and the hours
fell away as in a spell. An old jokester jigged
upon a sidewalk grate.
I passed a girl who once had arms and legs –
a kindly friend
sat by and held her cigarette. An airplane
wrote of nothing
on the sky and stolid faces shuffled by and
gazed but spied no end.
Still, there was time to trek the woods, hear
the blackbirds sing,
plant lilacs by the western wall, all in all, an
ordinary day, sun
angling into afternoon and then the breeze
that evening brings.
Some nights, a petition will gather itself, speak
above the rush,
for there is more that needs be said and we’ve
so long known the
words: beauty and tragedy – an offering, a thanks,
a plea, a hush.
Sugar and Spice
Sugar and Spice
That’s what little girls are made of…
The big house was dozing under the heavy, sun-drenched tropical summer afternoon. All the adults and babies were dozing. Kumar mama was dozing with soft rustling snores audible above the whirring of the ceiling fan. The midday heat in the month of May in Delhi makes your eyelids droop and shuts down the body under its burden. But little girls are impervious to this onslaught. Anyway, the courtyard was sending glinting invitations.
“Come on, come out and play. Heat, what heat? Heat does not bother little girls.”
The two little girls were hatching whispered plans to entertain themselves by climbing the pomegranate tree in the courtyard. There was only one obstacle – the latch on the top of the door was too high for them to reach. Also, they were expected to either sleep or work on summer vacation assignments. Kumar, their seventeen year old uncle, was supposed to be teaching them while the adults took their siestas.
The older sister had a brilliant idea.
“Let’s put makeup on Kumar mama,”she giggled.
The soft snores filled the big room.
The sisters tiptoed to their mother’s dresser. Gently Veena picked up a red lipstick. Then she pointed to the black kohl stick. Maya snatched it and hid it in her small fist.
Softly… they walked over to the bed, the older one leading. Veena stopped near the head of the bed. She put her hand out to stop Maya from coming too close. Then, very deliberately, she lifted the cap off the lipstick. Barely breathing, she leaned over and drew the lipstick across her uncle’s lips in quick, efficient strokes.
Maybe there was a tiny suppressed half a giggle; but really nothing – no one moved.
She leaned over again. One quick dab of lipstick and a big red bindi was shining on Kumar’s fair forehead.
Again, nothing – no one moved.
She put out her hand. The black kohl was placed in it. One efficient stroke under the right eye. Another deft stroke under the left …and… and… Kumar stirred and turned to lie on his side. Veena backed off and sat down quickly, pulling Maya with her.
Once again nothing. No other movement.
Now Veena grew bolder. She led Maya to the side of the bed to admire their handiwork. Bursts of suppressed giggles kept bubbling from the hands clamped on their mouths.
“Come here,” Veena whispered.
Holding her sister’s arm, she stepped back. Her index finger she put against Maya’s lips indicated she must not make any sound. Then one quick yank and she took off the rubber band holding Maya’s ponytail. As Maya grimaced, crying out silently while rubbing her hair vigorously, Veena walked over to the head of the bed.
Gently she collected a tuft of hair on Kumar’s head, closer to the centre, and put the rubber band on. Oh, it was the most impressive fountainhead any seventeen year old boy ever had!
And then they heard a loud booming voice. “Kumar, O Kumar. Go and get Devender and show me the exercise I gave you to work on.”
That was the girls’ great-grandfather, dadaji, who had forbidden afternoon naps for school going children. Kumar, and most of the family, were in mortal fear of dadaji. He woke up with a start. “Unhuh…wha’…what happened?” Kumar mumbled.
The girls said in unison, “Dadaji is calling you and here you are snoring. Go and get Devender from his house, jaldi. Dadaji wants to see your math homework”.
Kumar had left the room by the time they said Devender. He had rushed out the front door into the street. Only then did he feel a pull on his head. He felt his hair with his hand.
“Those two girls! I won’t spare them this time.” He said, pulling the hair band off and smoothing out the fountainhead. In a rush to get to Devender’s house he was walking very fast. People on the street were looking at him and laughing, maybe even commenting, but he did not have time for any of that.
He knocked on the door of the house and Devender’s mother opened it. “Chachiji, dadaji wants Devender to come and study math … so he is calling him.”
Chachiji had covered her mouth with her pallu, the long end of her saree, and was laughing. She called out, “Devender, Kumar is here.”
Devender rushed out with his books under his arm, but when he looked at Kumar, he too burst out laughing.
“Were you taking an afternoon nap, yaar? At least you should have washed your face before coming over.” He said to his friend.
“How can I be sleeping in the afternoon, yaar. You know dadaji. He does not like me taking naps. I was working on the assignment he gave us.” said Kumar, in a huff.
By this time Devender’s younger siblings, his uncles and aunties, and his grandparents had all gathered in the courtyard. Devender took Kumar to the small mirror hanging on the wall.
As soon as Kumar saw his dolled up face in the mirror, he burst out, “I won’t leave them. This time, I won’t spare them…” But all he could do was rub off the lipstick and kohl marks with laughter ringing in his ears.