It’s READING MONTH

Dear M.A. Gavin,

If you can’t tell from the title, I am ecstatic it is reading month.  I think this comes only second to my excitement for Banned Books week in September.  You are currently at a point in life and school where everyday is reading month based on how much you have to read.  For me, however, reading month is permission to carry a baker’s dozen worth of books everywhere, wear my Green Eggs and Ham chucks everyday, and shamelessly spout the importance of reading to anyone who will even half listen.  Fortunately, as a teacher, I am not considered crazy despite my overwhelming excitement (yes, overwhelming is accurate word – as my students stare at me wide eyed and jaw dropped 97% of the time).

We have a pretty intense love of reading, but it is impressive how the love of reading comes in different forms.  For example, there is a bibliophile who is a lover of books.  According to Oxford Dictionaries website, a librocubcultarist describes “someone who reads in bed.”  A more colloquial term is a “bookworm,” which we have been called on more than one occasion.

While I think all three of these terms accurately describe me, I don’t think any of them accurately describe  a simple love of reading.  Reading anything and everything you can get your hands on, consuming an abundance of information, in various digital and print forms.  Remember when you first started learning to read, and the feeling you got when you started seeing and reading words all around you?  It is that ecstasy, that simple love and wonder of reading and the world, I return to each March.   I wish there was a word for that feeling, for that love of reading, not of books, not someone who reads quickly, but for someone infatuated by the act of reading and who engages in it as often as possible.  If you know the word for it, let me know; I should add it to my elevator speech.

Additionally, our love of reading is founded in personal idiosyncrasies.  For example, my ability to read in a car, but inability to read for more than five minutes after work without passing out book open in my lap, mouth agape, and drool dribbling down my chin.  Instead, I choose to get up earlier than I need to, in order to enjoy reading in the morning.  The peace I feel on Saturday mornings is near perfection, as the sun rises through my front window, birds chirping, a warm cup of tea in my favorite mug, my current read in my lap, and one or two puppies curled up nearby.  The absurd croaking – RIBIT! – I hear in my head or aloud anytime I come across a gushy part of a story adds to my reading experience every time.  Going back to reread old favorites, receiving recommendations, and exploring new genres, help my love of reading continue to grow and flourish.

I wish you and everyone else a most joyful reading month, full of adventures, romances, inquiries, and discoveries.  I implore you to share your love of reading with children by reading to or with them, and with friends or family members by giving recommendations or discussing what you’ve read.  I leave you with a well used, but ever accurate quote from George R.R. Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.”

Happy Reading,

M.R. Gavin

Advertisements

Chapter 30

Uninterrupted darkness.  Another endless black abyss.  

Ended abruptly by a flash of blinding light, and a sudden saturation of ice cold water.  Stunned and gasping Beatrice screamed, shot up, and began shaking uncontrollably. Her little room and antiquated quilt were the same, but the light filling the room had the intensity of the sun, the air combined with the ice cold water chilled her to the core.  Cousins filled her small prison.  Gerald Jr. stood snickering with an empty bucket.  Every second generation cousin was screaming their heads off.  Despite the pale pink nighty being soaked through, her throat was drier than a Christmas tree on Christmas after not having been watered since Thanksgiving.  Her head was spinning as she turned and turned trying to account for all the people in this tiny, brilliantly lit space.  She sniffed in search for the tiniest remnant of her mother’s perfume, and the loathed – though welcome – smell of Pepe after rolling his way through the dog park.

She gawked at the cousins. All just as she remembered them, unlike her sickly looking self, but even louder.  Head still spinning she tried to speak, “Where’s my mother?” her voice croaked.  No one answered, no one even seemed to register the sound of her voice.  Beatrice’s eyes refused to focus.  They swept back and forth looking for signs of her mother; when everyone else’s’ heads stopped spinning (though the yelling and screaming proceeded as if on loop), she concluded her mother was absent from this “revival,” as was Arthur.  She could only hope her mother was safe and Arthur gone forever.

Gradually, Beatrice began to focus on what she could see, trying her best to ignore what she could hear, and push aside the now howling grumble of her stomach.  She started by focusing on Janelle’s youngest.  He appeared the same, maybe a bit bigger than she remembered, but screaming at the top of his lungs with unhinged glee.  From him, she shifted her gaze to Janelle, who stood unblinking, baby on her popped hip, and a quizzical, yet not unfriendly look.  For an instant, Beatrice recalled the photo, Gerald Sr. and toddler Janelle, oddly reminiscent of how Janelle and her son looked now.  She scanned the room to find the unknown figure from the photo, but he was not there.  Coming back to Janelle, she sighed; Janelle had not stopped watching her for a moment.

They gazed at each other for what felt like an eternity.  Janelle slowly tilted her head, never shifting her intent stare.  Raising her hand, everyone in the room stood immobilized and silent.  The silence was almost as overwhelming as the uninterrupted screaming in its stark and unsettling contrast.  Everyone looked at her expectantly.  Janelle quietly announced, “I believe it is time you and I have a chat.”  Cousins began filing out the single door; Janelle’s handed her son to his father, but never broke her stare.  “Oh,” she said playfully, “and send him in.”

-M.R. Gavin

Chapter 15

That night, after all the cousins had left and Beatrice was left cleaning up the ever-growing mess in her living room, Arthur slipped through the front door. Tonight, he had no bottle of wine, and his eyes were bloodshot, as if he’d been staring at a screen all day. Beatrice, forgetting her bitterness towards him, felt relieved, if not completely ecstatic, to see him.

Arthur was barely through the front before Beatrice began rattling off her plan to him. He listened patiently, with an expression that was entirely impossible to read.

“… Janelle is the key to all of this. Poor, naïve Janelle will spill her guts to me without a second thought. She mentioned this bakery, so I’ll meet her there for coffee, say its to catch up. She probably only knows her part of the plan, but at the very least she can tell me where they’ve been all these years. And like you said, if we can find that out, we can take down the cousins for good.”

When Beatrice finished explaining her plan and finally came up for air, she looked expectantly at Arthur. His eyebrows were furrowed and his lips were pursed. Beatrice knew better than to say anything; after a while his face relaxed, and he began to speak.

“You might be a spy after all,” he said, smirking. “You were right to pick Janelle out of the group, she’s the weakest link. She also seems pretty close to Gerald Jr., so she might know more than we think.”

Beatrice felt very proud that she’d come up with this plan all by herself, and that Arthur, an international spy, approved. But she was not prepared for what he said next.

“I want to come with you.”

“Excuse me?” Beatrice replied, looking slightly offended.

“We can’t underestimate your cousins. Just look at the headquarters they put together in your apartment; they’re smarter than we give them credit. They were probably watching you for months before they moved, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have eyes on your apartment right now. If you don’t introduce me soon, they’ll start to get suspicious. So I go with you to have coffee with Janelle; you tell her I’m your boyfriend. Its simple, painless. And it gets me direct access to everything going on.”

Beatrice sat silently for a moment, disheartened by the fact that everything he said made complete sense. Had her cousins really been watching her for months? Did they already know who Arthur was? Were they kidding themselves thinking they could outsmart the cousins? As if sensing her impending crisis, Pepe pattered into the room, jumping onto Beatrice’s lap. He was closely followed by Beatrice’s mother, wearing a quilted nightgown and an oversized fruit hat.

For possibly the first time, Beatrice truly appreciated her mother’s antics. Laughing, she scratched Pepe’s unusually large ears and shook her head at her mother’s hat.

From the other side of the room, Arthur smiled kindly, and got up to leave. As he reached the door, Beatrice called after him, “I’ll talk to Janeelle! See you for coffee!”

-M.A. Gavin

Chapter 12

The cousins’ plan was elaborate.  Arthur was astonished at the detail, skill, organization, and timing they demonstrated.  Additionally – and much to his frustration – everything was compartmentalized; the clear leader was Gerald Jr. and while he knew all aspects of the plan, the rest of the cousins knew his or her individual part and the end result, but was in the dark about everyone else’s assignment.  Beatrice imagined they were putting on a play; each person had a role and as long as they executed it flawlessly, they didn’t need to worry about anything else.  

The “Invasion,” as she called it, continued until well after midnight.  Gerald had allowed the cousins with the youngest children to leave (even baby villains have a bedtime), but everyone else worked vigilantly until being dismissed.  Her apartment had gone from a neat home, to a war zone.  Maps, charts, schedules, and surveillance photos wallpapered the previously ivory walls, pizza boxes littered the floor, soiled napkins and plates sat on every flat surface, the Gatorade stain on the carpet had grown with foot prints extending from it, and poor Pepe had gum in his fur from the second generation of cousins’ spitting contest – naturally, someone missed.   Even her mother was appalled by the unsightly mess left behind.

As Gerald Jr. returned from escorting the last of his siblings to the door, he glanced around with a grim smile, “You certainly let yourself go, haven’t you, Bird?  This apartment is the pits!”  Beatrice looked at him blankly.  His eyes shifted between her and her mother, “Now, when I leave you could call the cops, you could pack up and try running away again, but you’re smart, you’re related to me after all.  So I suggest, you stay here, take care of your mess, and keep your mouth shut.  We have your name and information embedded into this plan more than anyone else to ensure you cooperate.  If we go down, so do you.  Understood?”  Beatrice and her mother nodded, with Pepe whimpering between them.  “I’ll be seeing you later – and go to the grocery store for Christ’s sake, those rice cakes are shit.”  Beatrice held her breath until the door closed behind him; she turned to her mother, “What are we going to do?”

Arthur watched as Beatrice and her mother started cleaning up the wreckage left behind by her cousins.  He acquired pieces of the puzzle he had never seen before, video and audio feed of their hide out, but he still hadn’t solved the biggest mystery and the only one that mattered – where did they go?  Regardless, he knew it was time to confront Beatrice and her mother, to tell them his role and how to proceed moving forward.  He grabbed his jacket, phone, and a bottle of wine to help soften the blow.  

It was exactly 2:44 AM when Beatrice heard the knock.  She slowly turned the doorknob, terrified they had already returned.  

“Hi Beatrice,” Arthur said with a smile, “it’s about time we really get to know each other.”

-M.R. Gavin

Chapter 10

By 12:25, Arthur was in his blue Honda Accord and already on the phone.

“It has begun,” was all he said to the other end of the line.  After a brief pause he continued,  “Review the complex security cameras, have social media experts scour for further leads and information.  I am in route.”

Throwing the car into reverse, he drove with extreme dexterity despite his unassuming persona.  He flew down the street weaving through cars, turning knobs and dials on the dash.  A screen appeared with a rotating image, waiting dissipate and become of use.  “Review all known information concerning Beatrice Theodora Lee.”  Instantly, the screen burst into action, scattering the rotating logo into hundreds of pictures and characters, as a computerized voice began speaking in a rapid succession of names, dates, associations, and life events.  

This continued for the four minutes and  fifty six seconds it took Arthur to arrive at his apartment complex.  Turning left, he continued the wide swing of the car, slammed the brakes, and parked perfectly in his usual spot; he dismissed the chattering screen, climbed out of the vehicle, knowing it was unlikely he would see it again, and marched to the door of his building.  He appeared borderline dangerous to those who saw him; his eyes were focused and unblinking on the door to his building, as he walked blind and deaf to the rest of the world.  His neighbor, Ernie, was about to give a cheerful hello, but stopped halfway through uttering the word by the chill of Arthur’s eyes and authoritative steps.  

Entering the building, Arthur bypassed his traditional route of the elevator and instead, rapidly mounted the stairs to the third floor.  He unlocked the apartment with dexterity, smoothly locked the deadbolt and set a security code without a glance, and reached for a remote with just three buttons.  

Across the town, a dozen other men and women were hurriedly heading home, rushing upstairs, locking doors, and anxiously looking back at the text they had received less than five minutes prior,

“It has begun. Prepare to debrief immediately.”

Arthur stood in front of his television looking grim, and steely faced.  In a sense, this was what the last three years had been preparing him for; this was the chance he had been waiting for; this was going to make the monotonous days of waiting, observing and researching worth it, but he was surprised by the pangs of heartache, guilt, and worry that kept creeping up on him.  He was sent here for an assignment: build a relationship with someone connected to the cousins, use the relationship to learn more about the cousins, expose them; truthfully, he had never considered what it would entail for Beatrice, or that he would actually grow concerned for the well being of someone like her.  Regardless of these unexpected feelings, he stared at the screen with the face of a drill sergeant, as the faces of twelve others began to appear.

M.R. Gavin

Chapter 7

The one good thing  about the horrible news was that Beatrice’s mother was distracted. This gave Beatrice the chance to sneak out on Wednesday to have her usual dinner with her usual date.

Beatrice left her apartment at 6:45, tiptoeing past her mother, who was doing nude yoga in the living room (Beatrice made a mental note to deep clean the carpet). She parked her car in space 11 at 6:57 and sat down at the usual table at 6:59. At exactly 7:00, he sat down across from her.

“Hello, Beatrice.”

“Hello, Arthur.”

They placed their standard orders and began to discuss the beautifully mundane aspects of their lives. Beatrice felt at peace. For the first time in days, she felt comfortable, safe and secure in what remained of her routine. But all through dinner, she had the feeling that she couldn’t hold it in much longer, she had to tell him. Just as they were finishing up their meals, she gathered up to courage to be honest with him.

“Arthur, I so enjoy your company, and our time together,” she started, “but there’s something important I need to tell you. And I’m afraid it might interrupt our routine.”

“Beatrice, if it’s that important, it’s worth interrupting our routine” he replied.

Beatrice considered this for a moment. She thought it was an odd thing for Arthur to say, but supposed he was correct. Before she knew it, she was rambling through her entire life story, from her crazy mother to her even crazier cousins.

“…Growing up with them was horrible. No matter what anyone did or said, they managed to ruin it. The only relief anyone got was when the cousins would leave for a little while. Usually it was only for a week or so, but once they were gone for six months.”

Beatrice paused to breath, surprised by her own openness, and how good it was to get this all off her chest. She looked over at Arthur, who looked mildly confused.

“But Beatrice, where did they go?” he asked, puzzled.

“I don’t know. And to be completely honest, I never asked. I don’t think anyone did. Everyone was just grateful anytime they left, “ Beatrice replied. “The last time they left, they left for good. I woke up one morning and they were gone. Their house was empty, there wasn’t even a crumb left on the floor. Everyone was so grateful, no one bothered to ask where they’d gone. But now they’re back, and I don’t’ know what to think.”

Beatrice left dinner feeling relieved. She had told Arthur everything, and he hadn’t run away. In fact, if Beatrice hadn’t been so overjoyed by Arthur’s reaction, she may have noticed that not only had he not run away, he hadn’t even looked surprised. If Beatrice had really been paying attention, she may have noticed that when Arthur got into his car, he hadn’t left right away. She would have seen him sitting in his car, talking on the phone. But Beatrice wasn’t paying attention, because if she was, she would have known exactly what was coming next.

-M.A. Gavin

Chapter 5

Beatrice managed to find her way to the kitchen table, wading through the pile of luggage, dog toys, and oddly scented grocery bags that had congregated on her floor. She sat down, taking a moment to collect herself and her thoughts, trying to procure a plan of action, to put together a last minute semblance of a routine. After a few minutes, she gave up, acknowledging the fact that her mother repelled routine like Off repelled mosquitos.

The rest of dinner felt muted. Beatrice could see her mother’s mouth move, but all she heard was the “wahhh wah wahhhh,” of an adult in The Charlie Brown movie. She could see the plate of exotic food in front of her, but she couldn’t taste it. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion; Beatrice kept checking the clock on her wall to make sure the second hand was still moving.

“Birdie…oh, Birdie…Beatrice?” her mother said, interrupting her thoughts.

She snapped out of her trance, suddenly overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli impeding on her personal space; the noise, the mess, and the smells were stifling.

“Do you like your dinner?” Beatrice’s mother asked.

“My dinner? Oh, yes, of course, my dinner,” Beatrice babbled, searching for the correct response. “Dinner is delicious. Thank you.”

Her mother continued talking, but now that Beatrice had come back to reality, she realized something was off. Her mother was rambling, per usual, but in a way that felt like she was avoiding something. She was scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to talk about, telling stories that Beatrice was sure she’d heard before.

“Why are you here?” Beatrice asked, more harshly than intended. “I mean; why did you decide to visit now?”

“I just wanted to visit my daughter, is that a crime?” her mother replied, smiling in a way that suggested she was hiding something.

“Mother, what aren’t you telling me?”

Her mother hesitated, pushing the food around on her plate. It was the first time she’d been silent since Beatrice had walked through the door.

“Birdie…” her mother began. She looked at her daughter, her jaw suddenly set. Her expression was that of fear, masked by defeat. “They’re back.”

Beatrice felt like she’d just had the air knocked out of her. Most people would question her mother’s laughably ominous statement, but Beatrice knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “Could it be a mistake?”

Her mother just shook her head sadly, knocking away the last strand of hope in Beatrice’s mind. Beatrice felt as if she would cry. Or scream. Possibly both. She felt like lying on her kitchen floor, slamming her feet and fists against the tile like a toddler having a temper tantrum. It wasn’t fair. First her mother, now them. It was 7:53. Beatrice should have been watching Wheel of Fortune. But there she was, on the verge of tears, incredibly grateful that it was her mother sitting at her kitchen table, and not someone else.

“They’re back,” her mother said quietly, “your cousins are back.”

-M.A.Gavin