52 Weeks – Week 12 – A Murder of Crows

Digital drawing of a Murder of Crows in front of the moon/ Loscotoff 2022

12. A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale here.

A Murder of Crows

The girl rowed across the lake, looking over her shoulder, hoping the man had lost her scent. The full moon hung low over the trees behind her, casting deep shadows around the shoreline.  

The girl named Aisling, for her mother had seen her coming in a dream, had taken the boat which she kept loosely tied to a tree on the water’s edge.  She was alone here, other than the birds, and had been for most of her young life.  

She did not know her age, only that the seasons had turned many times since her mother was taken. The girl had managed to stay alive and, over time, had grown strong.  Her legs were long and the muscles showed beneath her skin. Her mother’s clothes, kept in a heavy trunk against the wall, no longer dragged along the floor or sagged at her breasts.

She could not see the dark man at the shoreline and rowed powerfully to the other side.  He would be forced to walk around the edge, a slow journey through heavily wooded underbrush.  All she could hear was cawing of the crows in the dark trees, telling her to run.  Crows do not see well at night, and so, could not fly to her aide.

She thought about sitting in her boat in the middle of the lake, waiting until dawn, waiting for the crows, but the light of the moon made her feel vulnerable.  If she waited, she would not know where he hid or if she could safely leave the water. And so, she rowed.

There was a cave, hidden amongst the trees, on the far side of the lake.  If she could make it, she could crawl into the far crevices hidden deep in the back.  She had used the cave during the coldest parts of the year, when the house held little heat.  But always she returned to the house, where the memories of her mother were.  Where there was a small cookstove and a soft bed.  Where her herbs were hung from the ceiling and there was a clear stream of water that fed the lake. Where she could still catch her mother’s scent when the breeze blew and the temperature was just becoming warm.

Purple landscape of forest along a lake / Loscotoff 2022
And so, she rowed. / Loscotoff 2022

The small wooden boat began to rub its hull into the muddy shore and Aisling leaped to the land.  She took only a slight moment to pull the boat firmly out of the water so that she would not find it floating adrift when she was safe to return.

She paused and listened.  The forest was quiet; too quiet.  Normally, she heard the croak of the frogs and the music of the crickets.  Normally, she heard the chattering of the crows together in the tree. The low hoot of an owl echoed as Aisling felt the pressure change with the soft thump of its feathers overhead.  

She understood that the owl was warning her, that there was a stranger amongst the trees. She was used to moving silently through the forest, her bare feet were worn and callused, but she was not used to being watched.  She was not used to being chased.

As she made her way through the thick ferns, listening, she remembered the men who had come for her mother.  The warning of the owl had come too late, and Sabine had spent the few moments left kissing her daughter’s face and hiding her under a wooden panel in the floor.  Aisling could see between the cracks, but her mother had wrapped her in a spell of silence so that they would not find her.

The men had pounded on the door and her mother began to chant spells of protection, but there was not enough time.  The door fell open and three men, their eyes a strange silver, walked in.  Her mother was thrown to the floor and an iron collar was wrapped around her neck.

Her mother had taught her from an early age that iron would dull the senses.  The moment she was bound, the light fell from her eyes and her chanting stopped. The men yelled profanities and called her “witch”.  They drug her from the house.

Aisling hid until the spell of silence around her broke.  She was able to loosen the board from the floor, and then she ran from the cabin, trying to follow the energy of her mother.  Nothing was clear to her and she collapsed beneath the trees until the sun rose in the morning.  She slept through her tears and when she woke, the trees were full of crows, watching over her.  

As her eyes opened, the crows landed around her in a circle.  They laid for her nuts and seeds and then, hopping, led her back to her home, now barren.  They kept watch from the trees during the day and helped her survive in those early years. They led her to the spring and brought her food. 

Her mother had shown her a book, hidden in the brick of the fireplace, with drawings of plants and how to use them.  Aisling felt that she was snooping, searching through her mother’s things, but the book soon became her most important possession.  It taught her the healing practice through pictures.  Her mother had drawn the plants around them, had drawn the way of cutting and caring.  In time, Aisling was able to care for the crows as if they were her own children, healing them when they were injured or sick.

Aisling continued through the dark forest until she came to a fallen tree.  She knew this forest, and the tree had always stood tall and strong.  Suddenly, here it lay on its side, shattered and broken.  She traced its bark and, instead of climbing over, moved silently down its trunk.  In the rising light of the moon she saw the raw chops about its base, its flesh white and bare.  The man had been here. He had done this.

A twig snapped behind her and Aisling turned to see a form move from the shadows.  Silver light reflected from his eyes.  

The girl turned to run, knowing she no longer needed to protect her position through covert motion.  She ran, ran into the darkness, knowing the cave could no longer protect her.

The man with the silver eyes threw himself at her, and though she was just out of reach, he was able to clutch at the hem of her mother’s dress.

Aisling felt herself falling, and suddenly, the man was upon her. 

His thick hands pressed her shoulders into the earth and she tasted the gritty soil on her tongue. She felt something cold and hard wrap around her neck.  Her brain became simple as the iron collar snapped into place; her muscles became weak.  

The man flipped her over and she looked up into the night sky, the pointed tips of the trees bending in the breeze with a backdrop of stars.

Looking up at the tops of the trees / Loscotoff 2022
…the pointed tips of the trees bending in the breeze… /Loscotoff 2022

“Hello, little witch,” he said, pulling her arm straight and tracing his finger over a birthmark nested in the crook of her arm.  “You have the witch’s wart, and will bring me a good bit of gold.  You are my own sweet leprechaun, ready to give me my wishes.”

He dropped her arm and began to trace the line of her jaw.

“You are lovely, like your mother.”

Aisling felt nausea rise in her stomach.  While her thoughts were a jumble and the iron made her feel heavy and dull, she could remember her mother dragged from their home. One of the men wore a pack on his back made of fur.

The same backpack lay next to her now, a silver knife peeking out of the opening.

Dully, slowly, Aisling found her words.

“You, took, my, mother…”

The man laughed, deeply in his chest.  

“Yes, a wicked thing she was.  A wicked thing she still is.”

“…alive?” The girl struggled to say the word and felt a fire begin to tingle in her belly. It was a fire of hope.

“Aye, very much alive.  She wears the iron bracelets now, and made us some good gold, she did.”

Power surged through the girl and electricity filled the air.  A fireball of light streaked through the night sky; a falling star that trailed brilliant blue.  

Each of their eyes were drawn to the heavens as the full moon found her place in the center of the sky, lighting up the predator and the prey.  The moon was so bright as to create shadows around the two. But the moon only allowed her face to be seen for a moment, and then the night was filled with the sound of beating wings.  

The darkness descended upon them as the crows, aided by the light of the moon and guided by the falling star, consumed the man and his silver eyes. 

As the sun rose, Aisling found herself surrounded by a circle of birds.  The man was gone, his flesh had been torn and scattered, his silver eyes dropped in the lake. Only the blood stained earth where he had once knelt identified that he had ever lived at all.  She felt no pity for him and was glad that he was dead. The birds left her his ring of keys and slowly she was able to remove the iron that bound her.  The crows bowed their heads when she was free and took flight into the morning sky.

Aisling used leaves to protect her hands as she tucked the iron collar back into the fur bag.  She tucked the sharp silver knife into the tie at her waist and threw the pack over her shoulder.  

She made her way to the lake as the crows circled and cawed, thinking of the woman who had given her life.  Thinking of this woman, still alive and bound by the iron bracelets.  She decided, as she rowed across the lake, that her mother would have her freedom and that Aisling would bring her home. 

A Murder of Crows silhouetted by a full moon/ Loscotoff 2022
A Murder of Crows in Shades of Gray/ Loscotoff 2022

Notes

Crows are one of my favorite animals. They are smart, engaging, beautiful creatures. I live in the high desert, and when I started raising chickens, the crows became almost a part of the flock. They alert me to coyotes, chase away hawks, feast on the chicken scratch, and even circle our heads as we walk, talking to me and my dog. They have become friends. They sit on our roof and tap on the chimney, look in our windows, and always make their presence known.

When I started this story, I didn’t know the crows would come in. This story was about Aisling (which means dream or vision in Irish) and her mother. I also didn’t know her mother was still alive until I wrote the words that the dark man said. I realized in that moment, maybe this is a larger story that I should investigate.

Currently, I’m reading Magic Lessons, by Alice Hoffman. If you’ve read this story, you will certainly feel my inspiration from Maria and her daughter, Faith. Their relationship is what I imagined here, only from the viewpoint of the daughter and not the mother. I was tentative to include crows because Maria’s familiar is a crow. I knew I wanted animals to help in the end, but thought perhaps a bear, a mountain lion, or a wolf. I considered one of these animals being in the cave that Maria headed towards. I ultimately decided on the murder of crows, because I could imagine them helping Aisling as a child, essentially keeping her alive until she became a part of their flock.

Mom and daughter sit in the roots of a giant tree / Loscotoff 2022
Nursing my daughter in the roots of a tree/ Loscotoff 2022

Links

Do crows see in the dark?

My 52 Week Journey


What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

Next Week’s Prompt

13. A haunted house

Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink

Digital drawing by A. Loscotoff, crows sitting in the tree in front of the moon/ Loscotoff 2022
An Abstract Murder of Crows in Blue/ Loscotoff 2022

52 Weeks – Week 11 – The Imperfect Self

My daughter lays cuddling against my chest / Loscotoff 2007

Week 11 Prompt – The main character thinks he or she is about to get fired

Include: magazine, blow-dryer, congeal, bluebell, cummerbund, wheelie bag, pastels, cheeseburger, binding, science

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale here

The Imperfect Self

“Have a good day, sweetie,” she says, meaning it sincerely.  She hands him his coffee and a bag with lunch.  Her hair is combed and her face is clean.  She gives the appearance of a magazine spread; the kitchen is spotless and there are no toys on the floor.  The toddler is still asleep.

She stands at the door and waits until she hears his car pull out of the driveway.  She walks to the front window, a steaming mug in her hand. She smiles and waves. 

She waits a few minutes, just to be sure he doesn’t turn around, before walking to the blue wheelie bag.  She squats and unzips it.

That is when I tumble out.  Unkempt.  My hair is tangled, mascara smeared beneath my puffy eyes. She crawls in, the perfect me, the one I save to show the world.  My wheelie bag is never far out of reach, for when I need my public face.  She zips herself up, her perfect makeup, her blow-dried hair. 

I have congealed food on my shirt from last night’s dinner.

I go and gently lift our 3-year-old from her big girl bed and she snuggles into my arms.  I take her to our room and lay her in our bed, crawling in next to her.  Her warmth, the sound of her breathing, listening to the beat of her heart; all of this is what makes me feel safe in the world.  I go back to sleep, a doze, where I can just be the person I want to be; this child’s mother.  Where I can be in her presence and nothing more.  I want to live in this moment.

The ding of my phone wakes me and Essa snuggles deeper into my side.  I quickly turn off the switch, making it silent. 

Text.  

Can you talk? It’s important.

I don’t want to talk.  I just want my quiet morning with my girl.

How important? I text back.

It’s Andi.  She’s a mom in our group.  Her son is only a few weeks older than Essa.  

There are eight of us; eight first-time moms with our little ones.  We met in a community resource center before our babies could even walk.  As our children grew, we all became closer; the bond of motherhood and insecurity. We began to meet away from the center; at the park, at the zoo, at each other’s homes. Three new babies had been born in the passing years.  Eleven children now between us.

The little dots on my phone show she is responding.  I am about to set my phone aside and allow my overactive brain back into my bliss, when it vibrates.

It’s Jo.  She’s really pissed.

I feel the familiar panic; the sensation of warmth in my throat, the nauseous ache deep in the pit of my stomach, the tingle behind my eyes as the tears threaten to fall. I consider crawling back into the wheelie bag and letting the perfect me, the calm me, the centered me, come out of the suitcase and take care of it.

But the perfect me doesn’t cuddle in bed with Essa. That version of me is a problem solver, and I don’t want to solve this problem.  I want to wander through the fields behind the house with my Essa and look for bluebells.  I want to pull out the chalk pastels and draw on the sidewalk, smearing the dust on our cheeks. I want to lay here and listen to my child breathe.

At me? I ask. 

Again, the dots, waiting for her answer.  

Can you call me? she asks.

I sigh.  This was not the way I expected the morning to go. 

I slide out of bed, untangling myself from her perfect pudgy arms and quietly shut the bedroom door.  I’m hoping to crawl back into my cocoon as soon as the imperfect me understands what is happening.

I snuggle with my toddler, my imperfect self.  Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2007
Her warmth, the sound of her breathing, listening to the beat of her heart/ Loscotoff 2007

The phone vibrates in my hand, a repeating alarm of panic.  It’s not Andi.

It’s Jo.  

My heart sinks deeper.

I quickly type: Jo is calling, call you back after.

I press the answer button and do my best impression of the woman in the bag, light and airy, as if nothing is wrong and my heart isn’t pounding in my chest.

“Hey!  Good morning, Jo.  What’s up?”

There is silence.

“Jo?”

I hear her breathing on the other end.  Finally, a deep breath and Jo speaks.

“How could you?”

It sounds like she’s been crying and again I consider going and climbing into the bag, letting the other me out; hiding in the darkness, behind the fabric wall and the binding zipper.

“How could I what?” I ask.  I’m sincere, but I also know.  Deep in my gut, I know.

“How could you talk about me when I wasn’t there?  How could you talk about my marriage?”

It’s my turn to be silent now.  She was right.  I had talked about her.  I had talked about her husband.  I had talked about her in front of the other six women and their children. 

“I tried to talk to you,” I said.  My voice is a whisper.

“Bullshit!  You didn’t try.”

“I did!”  

The tears are starting to fall.  

“But every time I tried, you didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Because it was none of your business!”

The problem was, it was my business. My business that while her husband was exceptionally kind; my daughter seemed afraid of him.  My business that I didn’t know how to stand up for my daughter.  My business that I felt, to keep my pretty social face, to keep my friendship with Jo, I had to swallow my instinct.  My business that I had dreamt of my baby’s death at her husband’s hands. My business that I felt afraid.

How it tore at my heart, to battle against something unknown and unseen; to battle my own past trauma, to question whether my intuition was real or imagined.  Was it the overprotective mommy brain or was there something there?  Was I imagining things?  Did it matter, true or false, if my subconscious was screaming at me so loudly?

“I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I talked to everyone because I wanted to know if I was somehow making things up.  I wasn’t sure how to talk to you.”

“You should have talked to me.”

I had been trying to talk to her for months, but how do you tell that to a woman who has refused to hear you?  How do you tell that to a woman fighting for her own family?  How do you tell that woman who probably has her own suitcase she’s climbing in and out of?

We were both quiet.  

Finally, she said, “I don’t want to see you anymore. Ever.”

Undeniably final.

“I understand.”   

It was really all I could say, because I did understand.  

But what did  that mean for my daughter and her best friends?  What did that mean for the circle I had created the last three years.   Did that mean she was done, or was I?

And then she hung up.  

I sunk to the floor, shaking. 

I texted Andi.

Just got off the phone with Jo.  I don’t know what to do.

I could see the response dots and waited.

Maybe you should just stay away for a bit, see if it blows over, she finally messaged.

Have you talked to the others? I asked.

The pause was even longer this time.  

Yes.  Everyone thinks you should stay away. Everyone is worried about Jo.

I wanted to say, but you all agreed with me yesterday!  You all supported that I should talk to her.  You all said that something didn’t seem right and that it wasn’t just me.  You all agreed we could talk to her together!

I also wanted to say, What about me?  What about my Essa?  What about us?

Mostly though, I felt hurt. I thought you all would wait for me to try and talk to her again.  I thought we were a family. Who told on me?

That last thought, who told on me?  I felt ashamed.  Ashamed that I had done something perceived as “wrong” or “bad.”  Ashamed that I had hurt Jo.  Ashamed that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Ashamed that we were ostracized for something I had done.

Instead, I imagined the perfect me in the wheelie bag and how she would respond.  She would wear a perfect smile.  She would acknowledge the conflict and offer to stay away until everything calmed down.  

Then, I wrote, You didn’t stand up for me, did you.

It was a statement, and I knew it was true.  I understood that none of the rest of them had either.  They all had their public faces, and standing next to me felt like a risk.

Andi didn’t respond.  

I turned off my phone.

I cried on the floor.

Somehow, they had chosen her over me, when I didn’t even know there was a “her” or “me” scenario.  They didn’t like me anymore.  Didn’t want me or my child in their group.  It’s like being fired, but worse, because this is my soul.  This is my child.  These are the people we spend our time with, the people I trusted.

And they don’t trust me anymore.  Even though I didn’t mean to cause harm.  

I glance at the framed photo on the wall; all of our children, dressed up for a toddler ball.  The boys in mini cummerbunds, the girls in princess dresses.  I imagine my child, my most important gift, being erased from that picture as if she never existed.  As if we never mattered.  

But it’s not her.  It’s me.  I’m the one that never mattered.  Not to them.

I thought, if I could be perfect enough, then they would like me.  Perfect pictures, perfect family, perfect life.  The perfect model I pull around with me in my wheelie bag.  The only version of me I let my my husband see.  The only version I let my parents and my sister see.

There is only one person in this whole word who gets to see me; the real me.  The one with the congealed food on my shirt.  The one with the tangled hair and the stretch marks and the extra fat on my tummy.  I have grown physically soft; the better to cuddle her with.

The door creaks open and she is standing there, rubbing her eyes, her tangled crown of hair curling around her face. 

She sees me and her face lights up, despite the tears running down mine.  She throws herself into my arms.

And I understand, it’s not about perfection.  It’s not even about being liked.  I’m here for her.  She’s my reason for being at this moment in time.  She doesn’t need the perfection in the suitcase.  She just needs her mom.

My time with her is borrowed. It is finite. At least within the scope of this human life.

“Do you want to go for a ride?” 

She nods her sleepy head.

I get her settled in her car seat and then run back inside for the wheelie bag.  Only I don’t unzip the perfect me and let her drive, the way I normally would.  I don’t climb inside behind the zipper.

I wheel the bag out to the car and maneuver it into the trunk. 

I don’t change out of my pajamas.  I don’t brush my hair.  I don’t wash my face. 

We drive into the middle of nowhere, where the dirt road goes on forever and the Joshua Trees stand.  

I pull the bag from the trunk.  

There is a roadrunner, stopped to watch in curiosity; his clicks and trills are the soundtrack to my evolution. 

Perhaps someday, someone will find the perfect me, hidden in that suitcase.  Perhaps they will take her home as a trinket of what our world has become, the expectation of what we are supposed to be.  Perhaps they will try the perfect me on, and realize how stifling and uncomfortable that person is.

I’m tired of presenting a perfect face.  I’m tired of being my own science experiment. 

I drive away, the suitcase left in a cloud of dust on the lonely desert floor.

We pick up donuts and go to the park.  I push my Essa on the swing.  We laugh and she slides down the twisty slide, flying into my arms.

That afternoon, I call my husband.

“I’m not making dinner tonight.  Can you pick up cheeseburgers?”

He’s quiet for a moment and then says, “Is everything okay? You don’t eat cheeseburgers.”

“I do now,” I say.

He laughs.  “Okay, cheeseburger, fries, and milkshakes?  What are we celebrating?”

“I’m not perfect,” I respond.  

“I never wanted you to be.”

A little girl pulls a wheelie bag/ Loscotoff 2007
Perhaps someday, someone will find the perfect me, hidden in that suitcase/ Loscotoff 2007

Notes

I always start with these prompts feeling the linear weight of the straight forward interpretation–a drug rep with all her samples in the wheelie bag, bringing cheeseburgers to the office, prepared to discuss the science behind her samples. As I’ve said before; I don’t want the linear story. I want a story that is about something more, a way of viewing the prompt I didn’t expect.

I always share the prompt with my daughter, the Essa of the above story, and she is never connected to the linear idea. Her brain sees around the outside, into the corners, from angles I missed in those first moments. I envy her capacity to see the depth of possibility before my brain is ready.

But magic happens in the moment. She tells me what she would write and suddenly it’s like a shadow lifts and I can see the other ideas. I can see the story I want to write. Something about my daughter and her viewpoint of the world opens my senses to the possibility of where this story could go.

Her idea was around LGBTQIA, specifically transgender and non-binary identity, and the parts of themselves society makes difficult to leave behind. She talked about the wheelie bag carrying around things like dead names and birth pronouns.

I was absolutely blown away by this idea for a story, but it is not my story to write. I have not lived this and am not a representative of the LGBTQIA community. I am an ally, but that does not put me in the position to write that story. (I have included a link to the LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary from UC Davis. These terms need to be more widely used and accepted.)

Her idea got me thinking about the parts of ourselves we drag around; what type of ball and chain do we each carry because it is a part of us? My list began: expectations, mental illness, depression and anxiety, a temper bomb and different lengths of fuses. What if you were fired from your job for not fitting a social standard? What if the job isn’t the paycheck type, but the role we play in society? What if being fired is equated to being “canceled”?

It’s happened to me, I’m sure it’s happened to you. You have good intentions but it comes across wrong, you say the wrong thing in the wrong situation, you don’t say the thing you should have said–suddenly someone is angry and you find yourself trying to fix the situation. Fixing it doesn’t always work. There is loss and sadness and ongoing questioning of how you could have handled it differently. As the proverb states, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

We live in a society of social media where everyone else’s lives look somehow perfect. We share too much of the edited pictures and none of the reality.

Mom’s feel that pressure too, beyond the scope of social media. Everyone has an opinion, and you are certainly doing something wrong in someone’s mind. I remember my anger at a family member judging my choice to homeschool my daughter when traditional stopped working; how dare she judge my choice for my daughter when she spends no time with us and has no idea who my child even is. We get judged for birthing in a hospital as well as home birth. We are judged for breastfeeding (for too much time or not enough) and bottle feeding. We are judged if we decided to co-sleep, judged if the baby is in a crib, judged if we let our baby cry it out, judged if we wear our baby and calm their whimpers. Judged on the schooling we choose (or don’t choose.). They get to college and suddenly there is judgement on if they go, if they wait, if they go to junior college, and the prestige of the final decision. But it doesn’t end there–it never ends.

Childhood and motherhood is not a race. We are all in different places with different reasons for doing what we do.

And then we pile on pressures from how we look to who we are at our fundamental core. That’s the wheelie bag, that’s the ball and chain, that’s the basis of this story.

If you liked this story or connected with it in any way, it would mean so much to me that you share it. I send out an email every Friday with new writing, you can sign up for it here.

Photo/Rachel Valley, 2007. Mother Culture – Social Perception on nursing. “Dirty” featuring me and my daughter

Links

LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary from UC Davis

Mother Culture Photo Exhibit by Rachel Valley (Flickr Set)

My personal journey to motherhood

Part two on becoming a mom

Another story in this 52 week collection, on Motherhood – The Community

An important bit about me and who I am

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Week 10 – The Tango

My daughter stands hidden in the morning light/ Loscotoff 2007
Her tangled crown of curls curling around her face/ Loscotoff 2007

Next Week’s Prompt

12. A hike through the woods

Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar

52 Weeks – Week 10 – The Tango

Digital drawing of a man and woman dancing a tango. Loscotoff 2022

10. A ghost story

Include: tango, diversify, blog, invisible, missile, glitter, scuff, balloon, bird cage, grizzly bear

Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale here.

The Tango of War

He grabbed me by the waist and pulled me tight against him, a quick snap at the accented staccato as the sextet played on the stage. His arm cradled my back, the rough of his chin pressed against my temple. The tango was slow, my feet tracing the wood as this man guided me from my place on the floor. His body pressed against me. I could feel the shape of him. The shape of a stranger and not my beloved. My Andriy.

A missile strike.

In the war.

He was left torn.

I was left torn.

They were coming and we decided to stay. We would be brave, it was all we could be. We thought we would photograph and blog and share it with the world. We would document the atrocities. We would be safe in the basement of the club, almost a second home to us now.

Our apartment was gone. Destroyed. But we would not leave. Our weapons were information. And then our weapons were guns. And then bottles filled with rags and gas as the tanks rumbled down our streets.

He turns me about the floor; tracing our toes, walking in a dramatic embrace, with flicks of our feet. His left arm is bent as he holds my right out. He is a grizzly bear in my arms; large and thick. He wears the pants of a soldier but has removed his coat. Sweat glitters on his brow.

I see the shadow of my Andriy, sitting alone in the corner.  Watching me.  The smoke of his cigarette lingers and I can still taste it on my lips; invisible now. 

I remember when he taught me to shoot, his hands on my arms, guiding me to hold the butt of the gun tightly into the nook of my shoulder.  I remember his arms, holding me as the world exploded around us. 

My dress is short  and tight, with a torn ruffle at the slit.  My shoes are tall and scuffed.  How long have I danced here in these shoes?  Will I continue to fight in these shoes?  Or will they end up bloody in the street? 

The music picks up its pace as the violins moan their grief of this cruel war and my lost love.  He presses his mouth against mine, bruising me.  I don’t pull back.  I meet him with equal intensity.  He begins to move me off the floor, towards the shadow of my Andriy, smoking in the corner.

We are mothers and wives, we are scientists and seamstresses; we could have left, but we chose to stay.  There is diversity in our choices; to give our children a better future, to support our men who cannot leave, but mostly because this is our city.  This is our home and we will fight to protect it. 

This man is pressing me back and as we pass my love, sitting alone at a table. I reach out to him, wishing he was clear and real and alive; not some ghost of memory.  I want him to rip me out of this man’s arms.  I want his lips to be on my lips.  His body pressed against mine.  Not this poor substitute. 

My hand reaches out and moves through his cheek, Andriy’s cheek, with no resistance. 

“My Andriy,” I whisper.

His eyes focus on me, only for a moment, and I think perhaps he is real.  Perhaps he can see me.  Perhaps I will finally leave this place with him, the music pulsing in four-four time with my beating heart.  

But I am a finch, frightened to leave, and this club is my birdcage. There is life here and only the memory of Andriy out there.  Only the memory of the life we made. 


Andriy sits in the corner at a broken table, watching the shadow of their old life.  

In this empty club; the windows have shattered and the snow falls through the roof.

He can almost hear the echo of the music, of the tango, when he first met his Bohdana, his gift of God. 

He can see her in her yellow dress, tight and short with a torn ruffle at the slit.  Her high heels are spiked and scuffed. He can see her in the uniform of a fighter, the gun pressed against her shoulder.  He can see her blood, lift like a balloon into the morning sunrise. 

He watches her shadow dance, begging him to join her.  She moves toward him in the movement of the snow and the tumble of the dead leaves across the floor. 

The wind moves through this empty building and he can almost hear her voice whispering in his ear; my Andriy. Her cold caress against his cheek as the snow falls about him.  

He stands and leaves through the hole in the wall, into the empty frozen streets;  the memory of his Bohdana and her undying love.  The memory of everything she was willing to fight for.

Digital Drawing of a dancing ghost in a damaged building, the snow is blowing.  Loscotoff 2022
Bodhana’s Ghost / Loscotoff 2022

Notes

When I started writing this week, I saw the tango between a ghost and the lover who has lost them. I imagined an old house and someone coming home (I had not decided husband or wife), alone, with the spirit of their lover still embedded in the house; watching and listening. In their grief, the living person puts on music and begins to sway. Slowly, the ghost begins to dance with them, becoming a tango as the protagonist cries in their grief.

While I imagined my characters dancing in the house, I began to wonder what the story would look like if the person coming home was actually the ghost, going through their routine, not knowing they were the one who was dead. (Perhaps even the idea of walking through life like the dead; simply keeping the routine.) What if the character we think is the ghost is the one grieving? What if they sit there every night, hoping their lover will open the door one last time.

This is where the idea of Andriy and Bohdana began to be born; who is the ghost and who is the grieving soul?

Even further, what if they are both ghosts and both are grieving? What if they are each in their own reality?

That then brings up a deeper philosophical question around what it means to die and what comes after? What is our understanding and experience around death and grief. What if our reality isn’t… real?

Because I live with a sleep disorder that affects my perception at night, I often wake up thinking about these questions of reality, of life and death. I often “die” in my sleep (as my brain and body perceive it) and I wake up in panic, thinking either I am dead or the people I love more than anything have died. It often makes me question my reality and how the brain interprets stimuli. A few nights ago, I woke up screaming as I threw my body over my daughter who had fallen asleep next to me. I was trying to protect her from the bombs, or perhaps a nuclear blast.

I wanted Andriy and Bohdana to find each other, but that wasn’t this story. And it breaks my heart that it wasn’t their story.

My featured image is a drawing I made of Andriy and Bohdana dancing, not Bohdana with the “grizzly bear” of a man. I wanted the image to be the love between them, the passion they felt for each other before their lives changed. One a ghost, and one the living.

This story was also, very clearly, inspired by and influenced by Russia attacking Ukraine. Bohdana is a Czech/Ukrainian name meaning “God-gift” and Andriy is the Ukrainian name for Andrew, meaning “warrior”. I stand with the Ukrainian people. I have been deeply affected by the woman taking up arms, staying to fight for their country; by maternity and children hospitals being bombed. The story of a young woman and a young man, getting married in a church as the air raid sirens blared, earlier than they had planned, so that they could be together and she could fight, influenced this story. The story of a Ukrainian couple, marrying on the front lines, influenced this story. I don’t want these people to die. I don’t want them to be hurt. I don’t want anyone to die. I don’t want anyone to lose anyone. I’m tired of war and hate.

As a small side note; this prompt asked me to use the term “grizzly bear.” The bear is also a symbol of Russia. While Bohdana dances with the large and muscular man, I don’t make clear, and I don’t necessarily think it’s essential, to identify if he is a Russian soldier or a Ukrainian one. This is her reality and what matters is that it isn’t Andriy. However, the idea that in death she is dancing with those who took her life felt powerful to me. So, the reference of him being a grizzly bear is a connection to his size while also acknowledging the role of Russia.

My great-grandparent’s were Russian immigrants/refugees in 1906, sailing through Galveston, Texas, and settling in San Francisco. They were Russian Molokans, “Spiritual Christians” with practices similar to European Quakers and Mennonites. While the stories of why they left were certainly very different under the Czar, I still feel a deep connection with the Ukranians and my heart breaks for them.

I have included the link to the Immigrant Voice Story of Alexandr Babashoff, an explanation of the Molokan journey when they left Russia.

If this story touched you, if you liked it, please share it with someone you care about. If you’d like to read more and would like weekly updates, please sign up for my newsletter here.

I have considered putting my new artwork on Redbubble, Society 6, or in my personal store on this site. I am curious about what sites you trust the most. If you would like to see a piece of art on a specific product, please comment below.

I have recently updated the comment section on my site, you should receive an email when I respond. (Still working on this and would love feedback if it works or not.)

Ukrainian Flag by Anna Loscotoff, 2022
I am offering this image as a free download, simply click on the image. CC BY-NC (please give credit, non-commercial use only.)

Links

Ukrainian women are showing what they are made of in the fight against Russia

“We just wanted to be together” says Ukrainian couple who rushed to marry amid attacks

Ukrainian couple fighting against Russian invasion marry on the front lines.

Maternity Hospital bombed in Ukraine – In Pictures

Ukrainian names for girls

Ukrainian names for boys

The Full (and rarely seen) Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge (just the dancing)

One of my favorite movie tangos – El Tango de Roxanne from the movie Moulin Rouge

The Top 10 Tangos in Movies – MsMojo 2017

Immigrant Voices – Alexandr Babashoff – Story of the Molokans

Molokan – Wikipedia

Free Download of my drawing of the Ukrainian Flag – CC BY-NC

Full Tango dance sequence (the unedited dance) from Moulin Rouge

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community

Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Digital drawing of a man and woman dancing a tango. Loscotoff 2022
Bodhana and Andriy/ drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2022

52 Weeks – Week 9 – The Cult of Cait

Title photo for the Cult of Cait story. Painting by Anna Loscotoff, images of forms, 2016

9. A midlife career change

Include: chef, upgrade, monkey, turkey, fashion, team, harden, noon, elevator, baste

Read my writing partner, Bridgette’s Tale here

The Cult of Cait

I was dozing when she knocked on my door.  The sun had long set, and I should have been looking into my dreams, but I was waiting for her.

“I didn’t want to wake you!” she whispered urgently.

“You didn’t,” but we both smiled, knowing it wasn’t the truth.  “I expected you earlier.”

“I know, I know!  I tried.”

And then she hugged me. 

We hadn’t seen each other in years, not since after she had married Joseph.  Not since he had made her choose; her marriage or her friend.  I never understood what he’d meant, calling me a bad influence.  But over the years, I started to have an idea.  I was honest with her; honest in my feelings that he wasn’t safe, honest that I thought he was controlling, honest in the manipulation I thought I saw.  We lived hours apart, so it was easy for him to stop us from seeing each other.  We still talked, still texted, but it had become less and I missed her.  I had hardened myself to him, and because of my hurt, to her as well.

“Does he know that I’m here this weekend?” I asked.

She was quiet and I knew the truth.

“Where does he think you are?” I asked.

She pulled her bag into the small hotel room.  A room, that if I kept the curtains shut, I could believe was in the middle of forest or out on a lake.  The walls were lined with knotty pine.  It didn’t feel like a room in the middle of a parking lot in a little, out-of-the-way, mountain town. 

She dumped her bag in the corner and threw herself on the large bed we’d agreed to share, a giant sigh.

Photograph of a hotel room lined in pine.
She threw herself on the large bed we’d agreed to share/ Loscotoff 2022

I sat on the corner and then pushed myself up to lean into the pillows.

“Well?”

“He knows I’m at a women’s conference, but he thinks I’m here with my sister.  She knows if he calls to check in, not to answer.  She doesn’t particularly like him either, so she doesn’t mind.”

“What kind of women’s conference does he think you’re at?”

She flashed her brilliant smile at me.

“Why a leadership conference, of course!  That’s what we’re here for, right?’

“Absolutely!  There will be nothing hippy or spiritual or… whatever it is he calls me.”

“Hippy. You got it right the first time. You’re just a big ‘ole hippy bad influence.”

“That’s me!” I laughed, but it didn’t reach my heart.

“The chef made sandwiches for people arriving late; it’s in the fridge if you want it.”

Her face, lined at the door, smoothed as her eyebrows raised.  

“Oh my God!  …Should I say ‘Oh My Goddess’ at this thing?” Giddily, she rolled off the bed and found her sandwich. Each bite was a delight for her.  “Oh my God… this is fucking amazing.  Amazing!”

“Too bad you missed dinner, it was pretty fucking amazing too.”  She heard my tone and even thought I was trying to hold in my irritation at her lateness, she knew. She always did.

“He took my car,” she said, between bites.

“What do you mean?”

“He took my fucking car.”

“How did you get here?”

“Oh!  He brought it back, but not until it was so late that he expected I would just give up and come in the morning.  But I wasn’t going to miss this.  Because you know he would have done something in the morning to keep me there!”

“I really was worried. There’s hardly any cell reception up here, and there’s no reception on the roads on the way up.”

“Excellent!  No cell reception!  He can’t call me, can’t manipulate me to come home, can’t even find me!”

“Why do you stay?  If it’s that bad?”

“Because my job is there.  I love my students.  I love my house.  I love teaching.”

“You can get a new job.  You can get a new house. Teachers are needed everywhere.”

She looked at me seriously now.  

“I don’t know what my life would look like without him.  It’s been so long.  Even though he’s terrible, he loves me and there is a part of him that I still care about.”

She shrugged and shoved the rest of the sandwich into her mouth.

“Fucking delicious!… Alright!  Tell me everything I missed tonight!”

“Not much, honestly.”  I told her about meeting the other women, meeting the speakers, the dinner; the delicious handcrafted soup and bread that seemed earthly while still being otherworldly. I told her about the musician there to serenade us through the weekend and how she seemed to pull out more and more unique instruments. How she would play them close to you to feel the vibration, sometimes even pressing it against your skin. 

“You’ll meet her in the morning.  I like her already.”

And then, after a few giggles, we both fell fast asleep.


I woke before Cait the next morning and shook her to let her know I was going to an early yoga workshop; optional for the gathering.  She cracked an eye, her mascara smeared down onto her cheeks and onto the pillow.  

“You look sexy this morning!” I said.

“Mmmm, fuck off.”  She pulled the pillow over her head and I laughed, walking to the door.

“Coffee?”  I heard her call to me.  

“Coffee maker in the kitchenette,” I responded, “and if you get your ass out of bed, I’m guessing there will be coffee at the lodge too.”

She grumbled, “Wait!  Where is this hippy-dippy event we’re going to?”

This is going to be fun, I thought, not trusting that this was really the best way to reunite after so many years.  Was I going to need to hold her hand today?  I invited her, was I now responsible for her?

“Across the parking lot. Across the street. Straight out from the door.  If you walk in a straight line, you quite literally can’t miss it.”

“K,” was all she said as she pulled the covers over her head.

Cait wasn’t there when I finished yoga, and as I sat for breakfast, surrounded by women that somehow seemed to be glowing, still there was no Cait.  We cleaned up our tables and walked to the couches lining the attached open lodge space.  The talking was quiet and as the organizer went to the front of the room, I felt a hand gently squeeze my shoulder.  I looked back, and there she was in her black sunglasses, coffee held in her other hand like a treasure she would never let go of.  She was buried in her baggy sweats, her hair piled on top of her head in a messy knot.

I offered to scoot over, to make room on the couch, but she shook her head at me.

The organizer, her name was Indigo, began welcoming us to the first full day of our women’s retreat.  

“Be open to the unexpected!” she called out.  “Be ready for change.  Say yes to this time for yourself.”

And then she lined us up in two lines; two lines of women facing each other.  Faces young and unlined, faces deeply grooved with long grey hair.  The fashion of loose clothes and layers, silks and wool, wraps, yoga pants.  The faces were mostly clear of makeup and the hair was generally long and braided and twisted.  There were shaved heads and an abundance of tattoos and crystals and beads. I stood next to Cait and squeezed her hand.  Our solidarity.

Indigo had the two lines move closer and closer to each other, until the space between me and the woman across from me was only inches. I focused on the ring in her nose.  There were giggles down the line as we all felt the anticipation.

Indigo’s voice called out over us all.

“We are a team here today!  A community of women!  We are here to love each other, to be reborn into our confidence!  We are women and to be reborn is to come down through the vaginal canal.  To fight your way!”

We heard giggles and gasps from where her voice had been.

“Do not make it easy for me!  Being reborn is hard!”

And suddenly she was pushing her way between the two lines of women, pushing between me and the woman across from me.

I turned to look at Cait, still hidden behind her glasses.  Leaning in to her I said, “Are we the vagina?”

Imperceptibly, she nodded her head and her lip twitched, trying not to smile.

The giggles had toned down now as I heard our fearless leader call from the far end of the line, “The next person in line!  Push your way down!  Be reborn in your sisterhood!”

One by one, women made their way down the two lines of their sisters.  There were giggles, there were gasps.  Some stopped when they met resistance, and others fought their way down.  Then it came to Cait.  We were now at the head of the line; everyone before us had gathered at the far end to keep the ritual going.  Only once everyone had been reborn through the line of women, would we be ready for the next event.

Cait pushed her glasses to the top of her head, her eyes were lined and red.  She pushed her way beyond me, between the two lines of women, being jostled back and forth.

And then it was my turn.  The arms around me, I couldn’t control my steps or my motion.  I was moved in a wave of energy, energy of women. I passed Indigo and she kissed my cheek.  Finally, I was born of the lines, and Cait gave me a hug, holding me tightly.  I could feel her shaking, but her glasses were back in place. 

The last of the women, the women who had not yet completed the ritual, pushed their way through.

We were given a break—coffee, tea, snacks— and then invited back to the circle.  There was a low wave of conversation. Cait sat beside me now on the couch.

Collectively, we gather/ Loscotoff 2022

Indigo moved again to the front of the lodge.

“I want you all to be seen and to be heard.  I want you all to know, you are not alone.  Only participate if you feel comfortable.  Watch for a bit if you need to. Participate when you are ready.”

The room had quieted and no one spoke.  

“Raise your hand,” said Indigo, “if you feel alone in life.”

Almost every hand went up.

“Look around at your sisters, and see that you are not the only one.”

“Raise your hand if you have been abused by a loved one.”

Hands went up.  More than I would have expected.  Cait’s hand went up.

“Raise your hand if you have been sexually abused.”

Hands were raised.

“Raise your hand if you have been cheated on by a partner.”

Hands.

“Raise your hand if you have cheated on a partner.”

More hands.

“Raise your hand if you ever prostituted yourself.”

Hands.

“Raise your hand… Raise your hand.”

Both of our hands were up and down, sometimes the same, sometimes different.  There were times when the whole room raised its hand, and other times when only one or two did.  

I felt the shaking beside me and saw the tears leaking out from under her black sunglasses. 


It was noon.  Collectivly we went to gather our lunch.  There had been a shift; everyone seemed to know everyone.  We had each pushed through to be reborn, we had shared our secrets.  I watched as Cait had women around her, talking animatedly, her glasses on the top of her head.  The chef had prepared organic food, garden fresh, gluten and dairy free options.  It will filling and warming, and while I spoke to the women at the table around me, I kept an eye on my friend.  

We were given two hours to meet with the vendors; psychics, artists, tarot readers, massage therapist, henna artists.  Each of the speakers had their own booth and offered initial price options; 15 minutes with the trauma specialist for only $40, a consult with a intuitive financial planner for only $100, speak with the psychic, the first 5 minutes free, only $2 a minute after that.  Special introductory rates. Even the musician was doing private session of reiki though music.  They had sign up times through the rest of the weekend and I pondered if any of these things were meant for me.

In a corner was a pile of fabric squares with baskets of permanent markers. Women were drawing and writing words of affirmation on the panels and then baste stitching them onward and outward from a center piece that said, “Love Yourself and Be Reborn”.  One panel, already attached, was in Cait’s handwriting and I recognized her style of drawing, an eye with a tear.   Her panel said, “I want to be loved.”

Love Yourself and Be Reborn/ Loscotoff 2022

Cait had disappeared and when she returned, her sunglasses were gone and her eye makeup was perfect.  Her hair had been brushed, her sweats had been replaced by leggings and a crop top. She looked strong and healthy. Beautiful.

She caught my eye and smiled, a twinkle of the girl I had first met in college. 

The afternoon was full of more programs; learning how the body held pain, learning about reiki, meditations, free dance and moving into the body instead of living solely in the mind. There was a special event that evening and we headed back to our rooms after dinner.  We were told to dress like Goddesses, but to bring something to swim in.

I hadn’t see Cait for awhile, and thought perhaps she was in the room.  I found it empty and laid down for a bit of a nap before I changed.  I was mostly asleep when she burst in, full of energy and startled me out of my nap.

“Oh!  I’m sorry!  I didn’t know you were sleeping.”

I was still between asleep and awake, trying to pull my mind together when she threw herself on the bed next to me. She was shining every bit as much as those first women I had met earlier.

“I just had the most amazing experience!”  She was speaking quickly, full of excitement.

I nodded and laid my head back on the pillow, quiet.

“I met with the psychic, you know the one with the black hair?” Cait didn’t give me time to answer.  “She said that I have something big coming, something special.”

I didn’t want to be a downer and tried to be optimistic when I asked, “Doesn’t that seem like something she could tell anyone?”

“No!  You don’t understand!  She knew about my dogs when I was little.  And she knew how they died.  She knew about my grams and my dad, and she knew all my frustrations with Joseph.”

“How much info did you give her while you were talking?”

“None of it!  I swear, she just started telling me all the stuff, and she was right!  She said that I have more to do in life than the marriage I’m in, that he’s stopping my growth.”

“Well, that I’ll agree with.”

Cait smiled at me, her eyes were misty and wishful.

“She said to pay attention tonight, that I would get some sort of insight, either at the water ritual or while I slept.  That I needed to pay attention to the message and don’t be afraid to make a life changing decision.  Her words, it’s time to ‘upgrade my life, upgrade my frequency’.”

I didn’t want to be skeptical, and I didn’t want to ruin her high, so I smiled as honestly and as hopefully as I could.  

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be watching tonight and if you get any insight, we’ll talk through it.”

“I love you,” she said.  “Thank you for making me come to this.”


We were all dressed as Goddesses, whatever that term meant to each of us.  For me, it was a silk wrap skirt twisted over my one-piece bathing suit, a necklace of beads, my hair loose, my feet bare.  Cait wore a sequined mini dress and spiked heels.  There was belly dancing attire and silks, dangly jewelry, flower crowns, and one woman dressed like an Egyptian priestess.

We were each given a round candle and asked to form a line.  Indigo walked down the line and asked us each to say a silent prayer while she smudged a bit of essential oil on our brow.  Her assistant followed, lighting each candle.  

Once everyone had been anointed, Indigo asked us to follow her with our lighted candles.  We walked through a part of the lodge we had not been to, outside and down a long flight of wooden stairs.  I could hear water flowing and began to see a creek in the distance.  

At the base of the stairs we saw a natural pool, steam rising.  We circled the pool.

Indigo said, “You all created a prayer when I anointed your forehead.  We are going to go around the circle and say what it is we prayed for.  When you bring your prayer into the universe, you will put your candle into the pool, so that all of our prayers will join together.  If you are not ready for us to know your prayer, simply put your candle into the water.”

Indigo spoke first, “I pray that you all find your path.”

Her assistant repeated, “You pray that we all find our path.”

Indigo put her candle in the water and it floated towards the center of the pool.

Indigo’s assistant said, “I pray that I bring what I’ve learned this weekend into my daily life.”

Indigo, and now a few others, said, “You pray that you bring what you have learned into your daily life.”

Her assistant put her candle in the water.

The next woman said, “I pray to feel safe.”

And now everyone understood the assignment. “You pray to feel safe,” we all said, and her candle joined the others.

“I pray to know what to do with my life.”

“I pray that my husband sees me, really sees me.”

“I pray that my children grow old.”

Finally, it came to Cait.  She was silent for a moment and I wondered if she would share or simply release her candle to the water. 

“I pray… I pray to release my ties to my husband and to have clarity on my next step.”

The circle of women repeated her words and her candle joined the others.

When it was my turn, I simply said, “I pray to be brave.”

When our prayers were finished, Indigo pulled her dress over her head and walked into the heated spring fully naked.  Others began to join her, even the ones who had brought bathing suits, stripping down to nothing.  I wasn’t that confident, not yet.  I was surprised to see Cait pulling off her bikini as she stepped into the water.  

The water was hot on my skin and the air was cold.  The women were respectful of the candles, swimming beneath them and around them.  The women leaned against the rock edges, talking, watching the flames as they slowly burned out.  As the candles flickered and died naturally, the wax was reverentially removed from the pool. 

The moon was full overhead as women slowly returned to their rooms.  

I asked Cait as we walked, “Did you get your message?”

“If I did, it certainly wasn’t clear.”


The next morning, Cait shook me awake.

“I had a dream!”

I held up my finger, give me a moment it said.

“It was my message, I know it was!”

“Do you mind if I pee first,” I asked.

“Go!”

I stumbled out of bed to the bathroom.  When I returned, Cait was in the kitchen starting water for my tea and coffee for her.

“You ready for it?” she asked.

I grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around my shoulders, sitting down at the little table. 

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

“Okay,” she came and sat down at the table with me.  “I was walking through a field and I was feeling really sad and really lonely.  I was thinking about Joseph and how I hate the way he makes me feel.  Suddenly, I started coming across these tall purple flowers, and they were so pretty.  They made me feel a little better, you know?”

I nodded my head but didn’t speak.

“So I reached down to pick one, but my hand wasn’t my own.  It was a monkey hand!  And then I realized that I was a monkey.  But it was okay, I kind of liked being a monkey, like it didn’t freak me out or anything.  And then I though that being a monkey might be kind of fun; I could climb trees and shit like that.”

Now I was smiling, wondering where this was going and what her interpretation of the message was. 

“So, I kind of start running through the field, and in the middle of the field is this big, rough rock.  Naturally, I climb it.  It’s so easy and fun, and I’ve forgotten all about Joseph.  I feel really happy and really free.  Well, once I get to the top of the rock, I look out and I notice there is a flock of turkeys around the base of the rock, all hens, no toms.  Every single one of them is just staring at me, not moving. And then I see more coming through the flowers in the field.  They surround the rock and again just look up at me.”

“Suddenly, the rock starts to grow, almost like an elevator?  It feels like it’s lifting me up.  The higher I go, the more turkeys I see.  And they are all bowing to me!”

Three turkeys walk towards the camera/ Loscotoff 2012
…there is a flock of turkeys around the base of the rock, all hens, no toms/ Loscotoff 2022

“Like Lion King?” I ask.

She starts to laugh.

“Oh my God!  I didn’t even think of that!  But yeah, kind of like Lion King.”

I start to giggle, and suddenly we’re both snorting and tears are running from our eyes.  

“Stop!” she finally manages to gasp.  “This is serious.  I think it was my message!”

“That you’re going to be King?” 

“Well, no. I’m not sure exactly what it means.  That’s why I need you, You’re good at this stuff.”

She was right. I was pretty good with dreams, but not because of any standardized dream interpretation, or really, anything special about me.  I simply understood that dreams are individual to each of us and if we can identify the symbol and our relationship to it, we can generally find the message. 

“Fine,” I said.  “You’re walking though a field and you feel sad… so that’s your feelings of being alone and your thinking of Joseph and now you’re on this journey.  Yes?”

She nodded.

“You find some purple flowers, they distract you from your sadness, only to discover you are a monkey.  But you’re okay with being a monkey, it’s pretty fun and you get to leave behind some of life’s seriousness.  But why a monkey?  What do you think of monkeys?”

“Well, they’re super smart, funny, can be a little tricky.”

“That sounds a bit like you!”

Again she smiled, but was now a bit more thoughtful.

“As a monkey, you joyously find this rock pedestal.  And you climb it because it’s fun, not because you have any ulterior motives, right?”

“Yes,” she says.  “It was just fun, and I wanted to climb.”

“Suddenly though, you’re surrounded by turkeys.  What do you turkeys mean to you?”

“I know they are one of your favorite animals!” she said.

“True, but this is your dream, not mine.”

“Yeah, but I’ve never given them much thought… other than how much you love them. You’ve told me that they are like earth’s bird, and they are connected to the land.”

“Yeah, I connect them with Goddess energy.  They move as a community.  They are deeply connected with the earth.  But they are bowing to you.  How did you feel when they bowed?”

“Honestly?  I felt powerful.  I felt like I had something important to say.”

“Well, there you go.  You have something important to say.  I think your dream is telling you that women specifically will listen to you.  And that the population of women listening to you will grow as you grow, or as more discover what you have to say.”

Suddenly the twinkle in her eye was bright, and maybe not so pure.

“I know what I’m going to do.  I know what I’m going to do with my life!”

“And what’s that,” I asked.

A smile spread across her face.

“I’m going to start a cult.”


The gathering finished around noon, although the vendors stayed a bit later, providing services and filling up their sheets of future clients.  I watched as Cait connected, and talked to, and hugged every woman.  I saw her animatedly talking to Indigo, and Indigo excitedly talk back.  

I went to pack my things and as I loaded them into the car, Cait hugged me from behind.

“I’m not going home,” she whispered in my ear.

I turned to face her.

“What do you mean?  Where are you going?”

Her cheeks were flushed.

“With Indigo.”

“Like, you’re following her in your car to her next gathering?”

“Nope, I’m leaving the car here.  That piece of shit can come find it if he wants it.  My name isn’t on the papers.  He wouldn’t let me because he didn’t think my credit was ‘good enough’.  He likes to rub my nose in it, so fuck him.”

I looked at her, completely unsure on what to say or how to respond.

“Don’t look at me like that!”

“How am I looking at you?”

“Like I’m making a mistake.”

“Well, what about your job?  You can’t just leave your job.  I thought you loved your students.”

“I do!  But that’s the thing!  My students make me feel like I’m on that rock and I have something important to say. That’s the only reason I like teaching.  I can do so much more if I travel with Indigo.  There are women who want to hear what I have to say.”

“Cait, it was just a dream.”

“But it wasn’t!  Don’t you see?  The psychic told me I would get a message, and I did.  This is what I’m supposed to do!”

I hugged her.  I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change her mind, no matter how ill advised I thought it was. 

“I love you,” I said.  “Text me when you can, and let me know you’re safe.”

“I love you too.  And of course!  Thank you, sincerely.  This weekend changed my life.”


It’s been almost five years now; five years since I have seen my friend in person.  She was true to her word and the women who follow her are called “Caities”.  She has a book about diet (Listen to your body and only eat what it tells you it wants. That is what your body needs!) and a very popular podcast about relationships and sex. Mostly sex. (Listen to your body and it’ll tell you who it wants to fuck!  That is what your body needs!

I call them, The Cult of Cait.

A photo of a road winds between cliffs and green hills
I’m leaving my car here… he can come find it if he wants/ Loscotoff 2022

Notes

Clearly, this prompt wanted me to write about a Chef who bastes monkeys and turkeys and has a special connection to fashion, which is exactly why I refused to write that story. I told my daughter, who we’ve begun to call my brilliant idea generator, that there was just nowhere to go this week and I was completely uninspired.

She said, “No. This prompt clearly wants you to write about a Con Man, in a fancy hotel. Trump Tower…”

She always gives me somewhere to start and I’m so grateful for her. When she goes to college, I will be parked out front yelling, “but I don’t know where to go with this prompt! Help me!”

Anyway, she said Con Man, and then I started to list the non-traditional careers. Upgrade is an interesting word… upgrade how? What would a God or Goddess want a new career in? Could a Goddess upgrade? Upgrade through dying? Reincarnation… bigger story of midlife? And then I remembered a Disney Cartoon in Fantasia–the one about the Volcanic Eruption and Mother Earth coming and bringing life back to the land. Suddenly I wanted to watch Fantasia…

What about a Cult Leader? Would they become a cult leader or is that the old job they are wanting to leave? And then the words of one of my dearest friends echo’d through my head; “I want to start a cult.” Yes, she’s said it more that once and suddenly she was the subject of my story.

The girl in this story isn’t exactly my real friend, of course. This is a fictionalized version of my friend Cait. (Not her real name.) And certainly a fictionalized version of myself. It’s also a fictionalized version of an event that we actually went to, combined with another event we went to, combined with a whole lot of other life experiences. There is a lot of truth amongst this fiction. Including that I love wild turkeys and I’m pretty great at dream interpretation.

I write this in her honor, and I hope she sees it that way. I love my Cait and I love the things we’ve gone through. I love her thoughts and her excitement and her dreams. I love that she tells me that someday she’s starting a cult.

Currently, I’m listening to the podcast “Twin Flames” by Wondery. That influenced this. My personal experience at women’s gatherings and retreats influenced this. My feelings around the “cost” of spirituality influenced this.

The cost of spirituality… I’ve come to feel in the last few years a deep sense of manipulation by “spiritual influencers.” I’ve seen this in the “Twin Flames” podcast as well as my own life experiences. This is not to say they they aren’t doing amazing and wonderful things, it’s just that the monetary cost is often not in alignment with the work. There is a constant repeating phrase of “ask for what you are worth” and then, if you then don’t pay what they want, you must not see your own worth. The cost of enlightenment often seems to be as big as your pocketbook.

Please know, I think people deserve to be paid for their work. And they can ask any amount they want. I just don’t like being made to feel that I’m not respecting my own worth because I am unwilling to pay an amount that seems exorbanant to me. (And I honor the fact that what is too high for me may be cheap to someone else. At the same time, what is affordable to me, may be far out of someone else’s price range.) I’ve just come to know where my personal line is at as to what is appropriate for me.

Beyond the monetary cost is the life cost. You can see this in the Twin Flames podcast; you can see this in the Guru podcast (also through Wondery). You can see it in the division of family through political ideation that moves towards idolization. You can see it in the cult of personality and the devotion to becoming an “influencer”.

I’ve gone to gatherings like this. While fun, I have asked myself, “Wait. Is this cult behavior? Am I suddenly in a cult?” I’ve felt the pressure to participate because everyone else is. I have a strong sense of who I am… but I’ve also been pushed down the two lines of women in a rebirthing experience. Yeah. That part was true.

Thank you so much for reading this far! If you liked this story, I hope you’ll share it with someone you love. If you’re interested in reading more, I hope you will sign up for my newsletter here. I send out an email every Friday.

Image for "Cult of Cait", head in a bubble
Painting by Anna Loscotoff, 2016

Next Week in 52 Weeks

Week 10. A ghost story

Include: tango, diversify, blog, invisible, missile, glitter, scuff, balloon, bird cage, grizzly bear

Research Links

Wondery’s Podcast, “Twin Flames”

Wondery’s Podcast, “Guru”

Turkey Symbolism and Meaning

Monkey Symbolism and Meaning

My 52 Week Journey So Far

What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Week 5 – Drink the Kool-Aid

Week 6 – The Hitchhiker

Week 7 – The Flame

Week 8 – The Community