Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Reprise: The Best Gift

After nine years of marriage, Mary knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor. Money was tight. The children were out of school. Her husband’s large, extended family had decided – at the last minute, of course – to honor them with their considerable presence at Christmas dinner. Christmas Day was only a week away, and Mary felt frazzled, overwhelmed, and out of sorts. She lay down on the small double bed in the master bedroom to take a nap.

It was Sunday afternoon. Betsy, 6, and Lauren, 8, were busy decorating sugar cookies in the kitchen. Their childish laughter rang through the house, a happy reminder of Christmas. Mary’s 12-year-old nephew, Jordan, lay on the carpeted living room floor playing video games. An occasional triumphant shout blended with the sound of video gunfire. Earlier in the day, he had announced his decision not to participate in any of his cousins’ childish activities. He was too old to decorate Christmas cookies, he declared; although Mary noted with a smile that he was not too old to consume half a dozen with a tall glass of milk. But he was a good boy, and Mary was happy to have the extra baby-sitting money. She had agreed to take him for the entire week while her sister was in the hospital having gallbladder surgery.

Mary wasn’t quite sure where her husband Todd had gone. He had left early in the morning before everyone was awake, leaving a note on the kitchen counter that he would be back later. She figured he was doing last minute Christmas shopping at the mall and would come home soon laden with packages. The children would greet him at the door, demanding to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to each gaily wrapped gift. Then they would carefully lay them under the decorated artificial pine tree in the living room and continue to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to them every day until Christmas.

Mary prayed as hard as she could that he would not go overboard spending their hard-earned money on Christmas gifts. They simply could not afford it, especially when they were expecting their third child in a couple of months.

Mary ran her hands over her swollen belly and sighed. She was not prepared to face another round of baby bottles and diapers — even if this one was a boy. She was tired and disappointed with her life. The constant pressure to pay bills, the ever-present fear of Todd being laid off, the nagging worry over providing an adequate future for the girls — the stress was tearing her apart and wearing her down. And soon there would be one more responsibility to face. She just didn’t feel up to it.

When Todd came home, she would beg him for this one favor: one of them needed to get sterilized. She didn’t care which one, but somehow, they had to come to some agreement. She didn’t want more children. They couldn’t afford anymore. She wanted to provide for the ones they had already.

Outside, the wind began to howl, and the softly falling snow grew thicker. She could no longer see the trees through the bedroom window. She shivered and drew the blanket tighter around her swollen body. Please drive carefully, she silently prayed.

* * *

“Mommy, mommy, we’re hungry!” cried the girls, jumping onto the bed.

Mary groaned and rolled over. The bedroom was dark. She glanced at the neon orange face of the alarm clock on the nightstand. Six o’clock. Todd should have come home by now.

Reluctantly, she got up and followed the girls into the kitchen. She grabbed a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of green peas out of the cupboard and began to prepare dinner. While she waited for the water in the pan to boil, she grabbed her cell phone and called Todd. She heard a few distant rings, then nothing. She tried again with the same result. Damn this snow, she cursed under her breath. She reached for the portable phone on the kitchen counter. No dial tone. Damn! She slammed down the receiver. There was no way to get hold of her husband.

“Mommy, when’s daddy coming home?” whined six-year-old Betsy, clinging to her shirt.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. We just have to be patient. Go into the living room with Lauren and Jordan. Dinner will be ready soon.” But inside, Mary did not want to be patient. She wanted to scream, Where is he? A feeling of dread came over her. Todd would have called if something was wrong — if he was able to call. And that’s what was worrying her. He had no way to communicate with her.

She poured the dry macaroni into boiling water, then placed the peas into a bowl and set it in the microwave. She set the dial for three minutes and waited. In the living room, she heard the familiar voice of Burl Ives singing cheery Christmas songs on TV. If only Todd were here . . .

When dinner was ready, she poked her head through the living room door to call the children to the table. The room was dark, and one of them – Jordan, probably – had plugged in the Christmas tree lights. Their soft glow filled the room with radiant colors. Mary smiled, allowing the gentle peace of Christmas to fill her heart. A small delay, that’s all. He’ll be here soon.

“Dinner, everyone! Put the video on pause and come to the table.”

The two girls ran to the table and scrambled into their chairs. Jordan pushed the pause button, then walked slowly into the kitchen and sat down. “When’s Uncle Todd coming home,” he asked glumly. “I want to play video games with him!”

“Any time now,” Mary responded cheerfully, dishing up a plateful of macaroni and cheese. “So, Jordan, it sounded like you were winning this afternoon!”

He took the plate from her hands. “Aw, I do okay.”

Outside the wind howled, and Mary thought she heard a faint knocking sound. Could it be . . .

“Hey! Somebody’s at the front door!” Jordan shouted. “Maybe it’s Uncle Todd!” And he was off and running before Mary could stop him.

“I wanna go see!” shouted Lauren.

“Me, too!”chimed in Betsy; and both girls raced into the living room.

“Wait!” Mary cried. “It could be a stranger!”

She hurried after the children. Jordan flipped on the outside light and opened the front door. In the doorway stood a State Trooper wearing a heavy jacket, thick boots, and gloves dusted with snow.

“Mrs. Abbott?” he inquired gravely.

Mary’s heart sank. “I’m Mrs. Abbott.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you like this, but I’ve got some bad news for you.”

Tears welled up in Mary’s eyes, but she held her voice steady. “Won’t you come in, officer?”

“Thank you, ma’am. It’s mighty cold out here.” He stomped the snow off his boots and entered the foyer.

“Ma’am, I’m awfully sorry to tell you this –“

“The children, officer –“

“Yes, ma’am. Maybe we can send them into another room for a few minutes.”

“Children, you heard the officer. Go back into the kitchen and eat your supper.”

“Aw, I want to stay here!” Jordan grumbled.

“No, I need you to go into the kitchen. Now!”

Jordan mumbled something under his breath but turned and walked away. The girls reluctantly followed.

“As I was saying, ma’am, I have some awfully bad news for you. Your husband, Todd Abbott, was killed in a car crash an hour ago. He missed the turn down on Miles Creek Road and slammed right into that old oak tree in the bend. He died instantly from the looks of it. An ambulance took him to Mercy Hospital. He’s laying in the morgue there. You’ll need to come identify the body as soon as you can.”

Mary stared at him in horror. “No! It can’t be!” she cried. “It can’t be . . .”

* * *

In the days that followed, Mary stopped living. She refused to get out of bed. Taking the sedative prescribed by Dr. Lawrence, she kept herself sedated, locked in her room, lost to the world, oblivious to her own existence. All she wanted was to sleep – long, deep, and hard – until all the agonizing pain and suffering deep inside had shriveled up and disappeared. She wanted to blot out all the memories of her life, every thought and feeling, and to never think or feel again.

* * *

“He’s dead,” Jordan said quietly, bursting into tears. “I’m never going to see him again.” The two girls, not fully understanding, began to wail.

“I want my daddy! I want my daddy!” they screamed in unison. “Mommy! Mommy!”

“Shhh . . . Hush now, my darlings. Grandma’s here.” With a heavy heart, she drew the little ones close to her breast and held them tight. They sobbed hysterically, wetting her sweater, until sleep overcame them and offered a temporary shelter from their grief.

* * *

After three days, Mary emerged from the darkness of her bedroom. Stumbling down the hallway in her old flannel bathrobe, she made her way to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Her hands shook slightly, and her mother stared at her in shock.

“Mary, you look terrible! Come sit down. Do you want some eggs?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

“Then come sit down and talk.”

“I don’t think I can do that yet.”

She stood over the kitchen sink and stared out the window. The day was crystal clear with a cloudless, vivid blue sky. Bright sunshine made the clean white snow sparkle with millions of tiny diamonds. It was a perfect winter day, just right for making snowmen and snow angels and drinking hot chocolate; sledding down Jackson Hill; ice skating on Fisher’s pond; building snow forts and throwing snowballs.

“He’s gone, mother, and I don’t know what to do. How can I go on? He was my whole life. And the kids — good Lord, what kind of god takes a wonderful daddy like Todd away from his children? I don’t understand it. It’s too cruel. Those kids are never going to be the same again.”

“They’ll get through it, Mary — and so will you. You’ll do it because you have to — for the sake of those little girls — and the new one that’s coming.”

Mary turned around angrily. “I don’t even want this child! Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted one of us to get sterilized. I don’t want anymore children! I can’t even provide for the ones I have. How am I going to support three children working part-time at the video store? Todd’s life insurance will help, but there’s the house payment, and now we need another car, and the utilities, and food — and how am I going to pay for medical insurance? I don’t even know if Todd’s medical insurance is going to cover the delivery, now that he’s gone!”

“Careful, Mary, or that baby will grow up knowing you resent it. It’s not fair to blame the child for what’s happened.”

“I’m sorry, mother, but I do resent it! I didn’t want it in the first place — and now, with all this — I just can’t handle it!”

“It’s still Todd’s baby, Mary. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

* * *

The small bronze box on display at the front of the memorial chapel was engraved with these words: “Together Forever.” Two hearts intertwined, and Todd’s name, birth date, and date of death were engraved inside one of them. Mary gazed tearfully at the 8 x 10 color photo of her husband displayed next to the urn and fingered the thin gold wedding band hanging on a gold chain around her neck. Someday, she promised, my ashes will be added to yours, and we will be together forever.

She lit a small votive candle and placed it before the framed photograph. Then silently, reverently, she reached out and touched the smooth glass inside the frame, mentally stroking the familiar features of her husband’s face. Together forever . . .

She hugged her swollen belly and felt the child inside her move. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him after you. Todd Douglas Abbott. He might even look like you! I hope he looks like you, she prayed. She closed her eyes and wept.

She remembered the day when the doctor called to tell her the good news. Congratulations, Mrs. Abbott, you’re pregnant! She had been angry at the doctor and angry at Todd. The doctor tried to reassure her that everything would be okay, but she refused to listen and hung up the phone. She crawled into bed and stayed there all afternoon, crying about her condition. When Todd came home from work, she lashed into him with angry words, blaming him, and calling him names. Instead of fighting back, he merely looked at her with a deep sympathy and understanding that calmed her down, then took her in his arms and reassured her, like the doctor, that everything would be okay. He promised her that everything would be okay . . . and now he was dead. How could she ever forgive him for lying to her? Most importantly, how could she ever forgive herself for despising him and hating this child?

Somebody touched her gently on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Mary.”

She turned around and looked into the deeply lined, tear-stained face of Todd’s mother. “It’s all so horrible,” Mary sobbed, throwing her arms around her.

“Yes, it is.” Todd’s mother hugged her warmly. “He was my baby, Mary. I couldn’t have anymore children after he was born. It made him more special, somehow. Just like your little one. He’s Todd’s last gift to you — the best gift! Love him, Mary; really love him. Just like you loved Todd. Because there’ll never be anymore of him in this world.” Her voice broke, and she wiped the tears from her eyes with a handkerchief.

The best gift. The words echoed in Mary’s heart. Suddenly, she understood. Looking down at her swollen belly, the agonizing pain and anger melted away, and a deep love filled her: love for her husband, her family, and this beautiful child who would carry on Todd’s legacy. A bright spark of hope lifted her up, releasing her from her fears. She grabbed her mother-in-law’s hands and placed them over her belly, tears streaming down her face.

“We’ll love him together,” she said softly.

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2007-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

The first line of this story was provided by The First Line as a writing prompt.

7 Comments »

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison

(George Harrison. Photo from Grammy.com.)

George Harrison, guitarist and songwriter for The Beatles, died of cancer in Beverly Hills, California on November 29, 2001. He was only 58 years old.

(George Harrison sings “My Sweet Lord.”)
Tribute to George Harrison: Billy Preston sings “My Sweet Lord” with Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George’s son Dhani, and other Rock-n-Roll notables.
~Rest in Peace~

Dawn Pisturino

November 20, 2021

10 Comments »

Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Day of the Dead)

Dia de los Muertos Festival at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA, 2012. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.

ALL PHOTOS BY DAWN PISTURINO.

Although “Day of the Dead” sounds like a George Romero movie, — ominous and dark, — this holiday is spent from October 31st through November 2nd reaffirming the beauty and joy of LIFE.

Throughout Mexico and the rest of Latin America, revelers sing, dance, march in parades, dress up in costumes, and honor the memory of dead family members. Prayers are offered for the souls of the dearly departed.

Midnight, October 31st – The gates of Heaven open. The veil thins between life and death.

November 1st – All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Children. The spirits of dead children may visit their families for 24 hours.

November 2nd – All Souls’ Day and the Day of the Dead, when the spirits of dead adults may visit their families for 24 hours.

Cemeteries and churches are decorated with flowers and candles. Special alters are set up to honor the dead. Families share picnics at the graves of their loved ones, leaving plates of the dead person’s favorite foods on the grave.

Skeletons and skulls are important symbols representing death. Revelers don skull masks and eat decorated sugar skulls. Sweet pastries are served. Costumes and decorations burst forth with bright, fiery colors, reminding everybody of the motion, fluidity, creativity, celebration, energy, and liveliness of LIFE. Music is joyous and uplifting. These days are days of Happiness where people fully recognize that Death is a natural part of the cycle of LIFE.

The roots of this festival are 3,000 years old, dating back to the Aztecs and other indigenous tribes.

Aztec dancers, Dia de los Muertos festival, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA, 2012. Photo by Dawn Pisturino.

Celebrate your life! Celebrate your creativity! Celebrate LIVING!

Dawn Pisturino

October 31, 2021

Copyright 2012 – 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Illustration by Richard Cunningbot

Poem by Dawn Pisturino

MY GRAVE

I think that I shall never crave

A home as lovely as a grave.

A restful place deep in the ground

Without a trace of light or sound.

A grassy mound high on a hill,

Host to yellow daffodil.

And when the snow begins to fall,

I will not be disturbed at all.

A pleasant park is all I need

And visitors who stop to read

The granite marker at my head:

“Rest in Peace to All the Dead!”

October 5, 2011


Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

6 Comments »

The Triduum of All Hallows’ Eve

In the Celtic world, the end of October and beginning of November were set aside for a great feast every year to celebrate the end of the summer (or Samhain) and the beginning of winter. People played games and told stories about great Celtic heroes and the gods and goddesses of Celtic lore.

The festival also marked the thinning of the veil between this world and the Other World. The spirits of the dead could visit this world, and the living could visit the land of the dead.

Samhain was so special, in fact, the normal laws of the universe did not apply. Fairies left their underground homes, and ordinary humans were subjected to fantastic dreams and adventures (often involving fairies). Families called on the spirits of dead ancestors to visit them. And the spirits who responded to their calls were often granted special powers. Celtic monsters prowled the earth with such ferocity that even the gods and goddesses were no match for them. In Ireland, Aillen mac Midna re-enacted his annual ritual and burned the court of Tara to ashes.

Bonfires blazed on the hilltops, lighting up the shortening nights. These bonfires were so significant that their ashes were used in magical charms to ward off illness and disease.

Today, Samhain is celebrated as Halloween on October 31st. The word “Halloween” actually means All Hallows’ Eve, or the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated in the Christian community on November 1st. This special day is set aside to honor the souls and memories of martyrs and saints. November 2nd is known as All Souls’ Day (or Dia de Los Muertos),when Christians pray for the souls of their dearly departed. These three days are known collectively as the Triduum of All Hallows’ Eve (or Hallowtide).

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Roke, Sweden, celebrating All Saints’ Day. Photo by David Castor.

Remember: the custom of carving and lighting turnips, pumpkins, and other gourds was meant to ward off the evil spirits that might visit on Halloween. Halloween is also a time to dress up and make merry! In the United States, it marks the beginning of the holiday season that runs through New Year’s Day. So eat, drink, and be merry!

Dawn Pisturino

October 26, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Belief – Candice James

I’m stumbling down a trail of broken hearts

Where shadows haunt and taunt my sordid soul;

A grimaced tale of woe each face imparts.

Clouds overhead, I hear the thunder roll.

I turn my collar up to choke the wind

As rain now mixes with my tear-stained eyes.

Each lovely lie I told, I do rescind,

Although this does not soften love’s demise.

But if your heart should have a change of mind

To suffer forgiveness for my own sake,

And if the Creator has thus designed,

Then from this hellish nightmare I shall wake

To leave at last this shadowland of grief

And die with you in bliss beyond belief.

~ Candice James, 2011 ~

Candice James, born in 1948, lives in Canada.

Websites:

http://www.candicejames.com

http://urantiaartisans.com/urantia-artisans/visual-arts/candice-james/

1 Comment »

Reprise: Concert for the Dead

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Illustration by Job van Gelder.

Dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.

“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”

She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:

“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*

The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.

Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.

She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked.  She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.

“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”

Voices whispered all around her.

“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.

The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”

“W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.

“The Concert for the Dead.”

And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.

They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.

Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.

Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.

Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.

An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.

I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:

“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness

Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**

She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:

“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”

Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.

“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.

Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”

Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.

* * *

When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino, Job van Gelder, and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.

Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012.

Artwork by Asheka Troberg.

*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell

**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe

Artwork by Jason Smith. I commissioned this Concert for the Dead artwork for my daughter, Ariel Pisturino, as a gift.

Copyright 2011-2021 Jason Smith. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Halloween! Make it scary!

Photo by Dawn Pisturino.

11 Comments »

The Seance: A Short Story

The heavy iron gates of Bellemont Cemetery stood open like silent sentries, daring her to enter. Lila hesitated, fearful that once she passed through those gates, they would close behind her, trapping her in a cold, dark, colorless place forever. Thick brick walls enclosed the historic cemetery on all sides, walls much too high to climb if she became trapped. She forced herself to close her eyes and take a deep breath, squelching the rising wave of panic inside her. Then, heart pounding, she hurried through the ominous gates and breathed a sigh of relief when they remained open behind her.

A thick line of trees leaned wearily against the walls, their branches swaying in the cold wind. All around her, the trees were alive with sound: raindrops drip, dripping off rain-soaked leaves onto the rich, mossy soil below; a merry chorus of tiny birds chattering in the treetops, flitting here, then there, delighting in their wet, dewy bower. Overhead, the sky was heavy with white and gray clouds moving rapidly with the wind. More rain threatened to fall. But suddenly, long beams of shimmering sunlight broke through the clouds, caressing the earth with wraith-like fingers, providing a glimpse of heaven, and the possibility of angels breaking into song. Raindrops glistened like silver beads of light in the trees; the last of the autumn leaves burst into fiery red and gold flame; and she was alone, blissfully alone, in a magical world.

Lila breathed in the pure, rain-washed air; inhaled the heavy odor of decaying leaves; the spicy scents of cedar and pine; and the delicate perfume of roses, pink ones and black ones, which she carried in a large bouquet in her hands. She held them to her nose, luxuriating in the sweet aroma, and felt the wetness of raindrops on their velvety petals.

A damp chill rose up from the earth, making her shiver, and she pulled her heavy, black velvet cloak closer around her. The heels of her black leather boots echoed on the pavement. The skirt of her long, black velvet dress clung to her with dampness. But she didn’t care — she was nearly there.

At a fork in the path, she stopped. Gingerly, she stuck one booted foot onto the rain-soaked autumn grass, turned stubby and brown. But the ground held firm, so she continued through the grass, feeling the cold dampness penetrate into her feet.

She walked among the ancient headstones with care, noting with sadness how they leaned and crumbled in the shadows, their weathered faces obliterated over time, their stories forever silenced, forgotten, erased from the world. But a few remained to tell their tales: Baby Emma, dead of pneumonia after two days of life in 1842; Mary Whitehead, Beloved Wife and Mother, died age 27 in childbirth, May She Rest in Peace; Harold Whitby, who died a local hero in the Civil War; and Hope Blaisdale, born 1767, Asleep in the Arms of Jesus since 1857.

So many lives, come and gone; so many hopes and dreams passed away; so many joys and sorrows extinguished forever; so many years gone by. Both the hardness and frailty of life were represented in this place, and she was overcome, once again, with the stark realization of life’s shortness and the finality of death.

She found what she wanted in the newer section of the cemetery, a gentle, grassy slope once sparsely populated. But ten years had witnessed the gradual appearance of many smooth, cleanly-engraved marble headstones, and the open, park-like feel of this section was disappearing. Many of the more recent headstones were simple oblong markers embedded in the soil, flush with the earth, to make it more convenient for the mowers. They lacked the character and history of the older stones. But here they were, and here they would stay, until decades from now they, too, would appear weathered and worn, a testament to the passage of Time.

She had insisted on a more enduring headstone to honor the memory of her dead husband. She stood before it now, examining the clean whiteness of the weeping angel’s marble arms flung mournfully over the shiny, black marble headstone where her husband’s vital statistics were deeply engraved. It was not a new idea. The Victorians had doted on the image of weeping grief. She had borrowed the idea from William Wetmore Story, an American artist who sculpted the original monument for himself and his wife in 1894. It now stood in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, where they were buried. Lila had kept most of the original design but paid the sculptor to sculpt her own image onto the angel’s face — and it was her own grief represented in the statue.

She knelt before the marble monument and placed the pink and black roses in the bronze vase embedded in the marble base. Pink for everlasting love; black for everlasting death. It was an annual ritual which had consumed her life for the last ten years. She uncovered her head, feeling the damp, misty air all around her, and traced the carved letters of her husband’s name with one gloved finger.

“Happy birthday, Jonathan,” she said softly, and tears filled her eyes. With loving hands, she brushed away a few dead leaves clinging stubbornly to the cold, wet marble. Ten years ago, she had vowed to keep his memory pristine and shining. She would not allow him to be forever silenced.

The dull ache of her everyday grief filled the empty loneliness of her life, reminding her listless spirit that she was still very much alive and obligated to remain so until either God or the devil decided otherwise; but today, on the most special day of her year, when the ritual of her grief found its most sublime expression, she needed no reminder of the separation that lay between herself and her husband. The hardness of the marble headstone felt all too real beneath her fingers; the shortness of his precious life felt all too bitter in her heart:

Jonathan Harkins

Born October 31, 1952

Died June 21, 1997

Beloved Husband, Lover, and Friend

She leaned over and kissed the cold, hard stone, unmindful of the clinging dampness or the tears streaming down her face.

“Tonight,” she said hopefully, and believed it in her heart.

* * *

At nine o’clock, when she felt certain there would be no more Halloween revelers at the front door, she stoked up the fire in the fireplace, turned down the lights, and placed a small, round mahogany table in front of the fire. She covered the table with a large square of deep purple velvet cloth and set out the wooden Ouija board and plastic planchette. She placed a small silver candelabra on the table next to the Ouija board, filled the candleholders with pink and black candles, and carefully lit each one. The effect was charmingly romantic, definitely Gothic, in keeping with her annual birthday ritual; and she said a silent prayer, hoping that this would be the year when Jonathan’s promise would come true. Then she changed into a long, black velvet gown embroidered with tiny silver stars and waited for her guests to arrive.

It wasn’t long before she heard a brisk knock on the front door, and she opened it with a large smile to admit two women of varying ages and costumes. They removed their coats, handing them to their hostess, and looked around the darkened room in expectation.

“How charming!” exclaimed a young woman with blazing red hair and large, green eyes dressed in a long-sleeved, forest green gown with red embroidery on the tight bodice. The material clung to her slender figure, emphasizing her plump breasts. “Lila, you’ve absolutely outdone yourself!” She leaned up and kissed her hostess on the cheek.

Lila crossed her fingers. “This year, Maureen; it has to be this year!”

“We’ll do our best, my dear.” She turned to her companion. “This is Madame Angeline, our guest psychic, just arrived from Boston, Massachusetts. Her reputation is impeccable!”

The older woman with platinum blonde hair and faded violet eyes was dressed in a long-sleeved, lavender-colored gown adorned with vintage cream-colored lace at the wrists and throat. An old ivory cameo was pinned to the starched, Victorian-style high collar, and Lila wondered how the woman could breathe. She stretched out her hand, and the woman took it gently, turning it over to examine her palm.

“Madame Angeline sees many things, my dear,” she said with a slight French accent. “But for you, I see a long, happy life — if you will allow it to be.”

Lila removed her hand from the old woman’s grasp. “Thank you, Madame,” she said nervously. “We will see tonight if that prophesy comes true or not.”

Madame Angeline shrugged. “A cup of hot tea with cream would be lovely. The air is quite damp outside.”

“Certainly. And you, Maureen?”

“I’ll pass. I’m nervous enough without adding caffeine.”

“Then, I’ll be right back,” Lila said. “Here, the table is all ready. Please take your preferred seat, Madame.”

Merci.” The old woman seated herself in front of the Ouija board where she could easily reach the planchette. The chair opposite was left for Lila, and Maureen took the third chair to the side.

Lila returned shortly with a serving trolley bearing a large pot of black tea and a small, white birthday cake decorated with pink and black candles.

Madame Angeline observed the cake with a strange look in her eyes, but said nothing. Maureen smiled apologetically. “Lila, dear, you really must explain to Madame what this is all about.”

Lila poured cups of hot tea for herself and Madame Angeline and sat down in the empty chair. She took a few sips of the strong hot liquid and began:

“My husband, Jonathan, was a psychologist who became interested in the paranormal when he took on a young man with schizophrenic tendencies as a patient. This young man was a gifted artist who had visions of another world after death. He painted beautiful canvasses depicting a world full of light and angels and unearthly spirits. His paintings sold well, but the young man’s visions grew in frequency to the point where he could no longer function in the real world. He began to drink and use street drugs, and he finally sought counseling for his substance abuse.

“Jonathan took the young man under his wing, so to speak, and became convinced over time that the young man’s visions were real. He became obsessed with the idea of life after death, reading every book he could find on the subject.

“When Jonathan was diagnosed with brain cancer, we were both devastated. Right from the beginning, the doctors told us it was hopeless. We tried chemo and radiation, but nothing worked. We finally turned to hospice, and Jonathan died in this very house ten years ago.

“Before he died, however, he promised to come back on his birthday and prove to me that there is life after death. We chose a special number code that only he and I knew, and if that code was revealed during a seance or Ouija session, that would be his message to me that life after death is real and everlasting.

“It sounds crazy, I know, but I have celebrated his birthday and honored his death every year for the last ten years without fail. We have hired a different psychic or medium every year, to no avail. There has been nothing but silence from the grave. We were hoping that tonight would be different.”

She reached over and squeezed Maureen’s hand. “Maureen has been my loyal friend through all of this. She has been right here with me through all the disappointment and pain for the last ten years. He has to come tonight, Madame, he has to! I don’t know how much more of this I can stand!”

Madame Angeline listened to her gravely, then closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then she placed her fingers gently on the planchette.

“Place your fingers lightly on the planchette, and do not force it to move!” The two women complied. “Now, open your minds and hearts to the celestial realm and join me in calling on the spirit of Jonathan Harkins!”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest in anticipation. Please, God, let tonight be the night, she prayed silently.

Madam Angeline continued. “Jonathan Harkins, ten years ago, before you passed on to the other side, you made a promise to your wife, Lila, that you would send a message to her from the other side on the anniversary of your birthday if — and only if — you were able to do so. Please come to us tonight, on the anniversary of your forty-fifth birthday, and deliver that message!”

The fire crackled in the background, and the candles softly flickered. Outside, the wind howled gently against the windows. Then the soft patter of rain could be heard upon the roof. The lighted jack-o-lantern sitting on the hearth grinned a snaggle-toothed grin, and the odor of burning wax and pine logs filled the room. But the planchette did not move.

Once again, Madame Angeline took a deep breath, let it out, and continued. “I call upon all the spirits of Heaven and Hell to dissolve the veil between life and death, spirit and flesh, darkness and light, and allow the spirit of our beloved Jonathan Harkins to break on through to this material world on this holiest of nights, when the barriers between life and death are at their weakest, so that he may impart the message he promised to give to his beloved wife, Lila.”

Lila’s heart pounded in her chest, and a thin film of sweat dampened her brow. Her fingers trembled, but the planchette did not move. She looked nervously at Maureen and smiled faintly. Maureen smiled back reassuringly, her eyes glowing like green emeralds in the candlelight.

Once again, Madame Angeline closed her eyes, threw back her head, and said loudly, “I call upon the spirit of Jonathan Harkins to appear in this room and deliver the message he promised to give ten years ago!”

Lila and Maureen each held their breath as they waited for the planchette to begin moving idly across the board, slowly at first, then gathering speed. But instead of searching for alphabetical letters or numbers or touching upon the oui or the ja or even good-bye, the little plastic instrument sat there silently, mocking them both.

Lila stared at the planchette in disbelief. “It’s no good, my dear,” Madame Angeline said quietly. “Jonathan is not going to appear.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lila said, gripping the planchette tightly. “You didn’t try hard enough. In fact, you hardly tried at all.”

Madame Angeline reached for her hand across the table. “Remember what I said, cherie. You will have a long and happy life — IF YOU ALLOW IT. Ten years is a long time to wait. You are still young — only 42, am I right? Young enough to remarry — have a child, if you like. This obsession with grief is unhealthy. Life was meant for the living. For some unknown reason, Jonathan is not able to reach you from beyond the grave. That does not mean he’s lost to you forever or that he’s suffering in any way. It simply means that it’s not God’s will that he contact you. It’s time to let it go.”

“I can’t let it go, especially when he promised –“

“People make a lot of promises on their deathbeds, my dear; sometimes, not very wise ones.” Madame Angeline stood up and prepared to leave. “If you will bring my coat, Lila, I will say good-night to you.”

Lila stared at the little plastic planchette held tightly in her hand. Ten years of grief and frustrated hope burned inside of her, and she wanted to scream. She squeezed the planchette until the plastic cracked in her hand, and she threw it on the floor in disgust. Then she grabbed the Ouija board and flung it into the fireplace, making the fire sizzle and pop.

Lila stood up and pointed an accusing finger at Madame Angeline. “You don’t believe me! You never believed that Jonathan would come back! You’re nothing but a fraud!”

“Lila!” Maureen cried. “Madame Angeline is just trying to help you!”

“She’s not receptive to help,” Madame Angeline said sternly. “Please get my coat so I can leave.”

When they heard the knock on the front door, they were all startled, then annoyed. It was too late for visitors. Cautiously, Lila opened the front door without releasing the safety chain. She peered through the open crack at a stranger visible under the porch light. He was standing in the rain holding his brown overcoat over his head. He smiled at her apologetically.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I seem to have run out of gas, and my cell phone battery is dead. Can I please use your phone? I know it’s late, but I have no other way to get home. I live about two blocks from here, at 12145 Maplewood Court. I could walk, I guess, but the weather isn’t too good out here. I’d really appreciate it.”

Lila stared at him, not believing her ears. “12145, you said? Did you say 12145?”

“That’s what I said.”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest. “12145!” she exclaimed, clutching her hands to her breast and laughing ecstatically. She turned around. “That’s it! That’s the code! Did you hear, Madame Angeline? He’s come back! Jonathan’s come back!”

Maureen and Madame Angeline stared at her in stunned silence.

“Did you hear me?” Lila cried. “JONATHAN’S COME BACK! That man out there just gave me the code!”

But Maureen and Madame Angeline just looked at her in disbelief.

“Here, I’ll prove it to you!” Lila fumbled with the safety chain, released it, and threw open the door. But the stranger was already down the walk, disappearing into the rainy darkness. “No!” Lila cried. “Please don’t go!” She hurried after him, arms waving wildly, and calling frantically, “Come back!” until the rain and darkness engulfed him, and she was alone.

* * *

NOTE: This story is about Lila’s fear of death, her attachment to grief, and her inability to accept her husband’s death. Sometimes, authors get attached to their own words – “their little darlings,” as Stephen King would say. I would really like feedback from you, The Reader! Is the story too long? Too boring? Too wordy? What needs to be cut out? Or is it okay as it is? Please leave your feedback in the comments below – and, thanks!

Dawn Pisturino

October 15, 2021

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

9 Comments »

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (866) 706-4826.

All photos by Dawn Pisturino.

The owners of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery had a vision to turn a sad, quiet place of rest into a thriving cultural and visitor center. Built in 1899, the cemetery is home to numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and other dignitaries. Visitors flock to the site to view the final resting places of famous people and walk among the beautiful gardens. At the south end of the cemetery can be seen the historic Paramount Studios on the other side of the wall.

During the summer, the cemetery features classic film screenings in association with Cinespia. People bring picnics and lawn chairs and hang out on the Fairbanks Lawn after sunset to enjoy the warm California weather. There’s usually a long line to purchase tickets and to get in.

The cemetery also hosts one of the largest Dia de Los Muertos festivals in America.

Every time I have been to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I have enjoyed myself immensely. And walking among the headstones and mingling with the crowds is a fun experience and not scary at all – even after dark.

Did you notice the lipstick on Rudolph Valentino’s crypt? He still has a big following of swooning female fans!

Dawn Pisturino

October 6, 2021

Copyright 2008-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment »

Norwegian Black Metal Bands – Satanic or Psychotic?

Mayhem

The 1990s rock-and-roll scene spawned a second generation of black metal music – an offshoot of 1970s heavy metal, 1980s New Wave British Heavy Metal, and punk. This highly elitist genre catered to musicians who wanted to develop their own style and leave a permanent mark on the music industry. (Baddeley)

Bands adopted Satanic themes, and the music became more bizarre and atonal, preferring chaos over organized harmony. Make-up and costumes reflected the fierce competition between bands – the more exotic and dark, the better. The Goth movement was in full swing at this time and became another hallmark of the black metal look and sound. Images of death, suicide, and violence dominated the performance stage and album covers. “Corpse paint” – the distinctive black and white face paint used by many black metal bands – became the standard, inspired by such heavy metal bands as KISS and punk bands like the Misfits. (Baddeley)

Some bands fell under the influence of occultist Aleister Crowley, Anton La Vey – founder of the Church of Satan, – and the iconic imagery from The Lord of the Rings books. Using Satan to create a unique look, sound, and feel became a marketing tool for many bands trying to succeed in the music business. But other bands took Satanism to a far more serious level. (Baddeley)

In the 1980s, in Sweden, the black metal band Bathory began combining images from Norse mythology with neo-Nazi fascism, inventing the gruesome genre called “death metal.” This spelled the end of the group, but the fascination caught on, with other groups taking on the mantle. (Baddeley)

In Norway, an independent record label named Deathlike Silence was started by Oystein Aarseth, who nicknamed himself “Euronymous.” He claimed to be a true Satanist and owned the record shop, Helvete. In 1984, at the height of the first black metal wave, he formed the band, Mayhem, along with bass guitarist Jorn Stubberud (“Necrobutcher”) and drummer Kjetil Manheim. In 1988, Per Ohlin (“Dead”) joined the band as the lead vocalist, and Jan Axel Blomberg (“Hellhammer”) became the band’s drummer. (Baddeley)

Euronymous’ record store became a focal point for the second generation of black metal bands to flourish in Norway in the early 1990s. An elitist group of black metal bands formed the Black Metal Circle under the influence of Euronymous and his Satanist theology. His interpretation of the Bible’s story of the war between Heaven and Hell formed the basis of his Satanic beliefs. And he eagerly embraced Satanic ideas about evil, hate, and revenge. (Baddeley)

Other bands in this circle included Burzum, Emperor, Immortal, Enslaved, Arcturus, and Dark Throne. Dark Throne gradually fell apart as members became isolated, anti-social, and sociopathic to the point where they no longer got together to record any music. (Baddeley)

Kristian Vikernes was the leader of Burzum. He went by the stage name “Count Grishnack.” Later, he changed his Christian name to Varg, which is Norwegian for “wolf.” The band’s distinctive sound covered a wide range between sad and deeply emotional to dark, angry, and furious. Grishnack himself believed in the darkness versus light mythology embodied in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and embraced the violent, conquest-driven history of the Norwegian Vikings. It wasn’t long before the Black Metal Circle began to indulge in fantasies of race-based neo-Nazi fascism. (Baddeley)

The darkness that surrounded Mayhem made its presence felt when lead vocalist, Dead, committed suicide in April, 1991. He had been having fantasies about murder, for he said, “I started to imagine a heavy fog lit up by a full moon. This fog oozed up from that place, drifting woefully in silence to extinguish the lives of the local people and bring their souls to Lord Satan” (Rolling Stone). He died by slitting his wrists and throat and then shooting himself in the head with a shotgun (NME). He left a suicide note in which he expressed his alienation from the world and desire to live alone in the forest (Baddeley). He also wrote, “Excuse the blood” (NME).

Euronymous found the body, took photographs, and kept a piece of Dead’s skull, which he wore as a necklace (Baddeley; NME). He also scooped up part of Dead’s brains and, later, ate it in soup. Members of the Black Metal Circle called Dead a hero (Baddeley).

Dead’s suicide led to an international resurgence in black metal music. The Black Metal Circle designated “Norway as the Aryan homeland” (Baddeley), impugning other countries and other bands as inferior, and sparking a war that led to threats and harassment from all sides.

In June 1992, a stave church (medieval wooden church) was burned down in the Norwegian town of Fantoft. Several more churches were burned, and in January 1993, Grishnack was arrested for arson (Baddeley). Months later, on August 10, 1993, Euronymous died from 25 stab wounds to the face and chest. It wasn’t long before Grishnack was arrested for his murder. During the investigation, police found a notebook in Euronymous’ apartment detailing “a merit system whereby status [in the Black Metal Circle] was determined by the number of evil acts perpetrated [for Satan]” (Baddeley). Other members of the circle were arrested on charges of arson, rape, and other horrendous crimes (Baddeley).

Although these crimes brought negative publicity to the group, Mayhem still thrives “as the most unremittingly evil black metal band” (Baddeley), cashing in on the death of Euronymous.

In 2021, we can see the influence of death, darkness, and destruction on young people and their mentors in our schools and universities. While the social justice movement started out with good intentions, it has morphed into a negative force that destroys young people. They will never be able to survive in society except as hate-filled warriors. They will always be looking for trouble and getting themselves into trouble because their heads are filled with delusions of injustice wherever they go. They will never form healthy relationships with others because their hearts are filled with suspicion and hate.

By the same token, rock-and-roll started out as fun music that fostered dancing and socializing. Lyrics were simple and didn’t require too much thinking. Young people could interact without worrying about getting beat up, raped, or murdered. But rock also morphed into something negative and destructive. And our young people are the ones who suffer under its nihilistic influence.

Dawn Pisturino

September 28, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Baddeley, Gavin. Lucifer Rising. London: Plexus, 2006.

Grow, Kory. “Mayhem’s Long, Dark Road to Reviving a Black-Metal Classic.” Rolling Stone. 2017.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/Mayhems-long-dark-road-to-reviving-a-black-

metal-classic-129097/

Pattison, Louis. “Mayhem: Meet the Band with the Wildest Story Ever Told.” NME. 2016.

Mayhem: Meet The Band With The Wildest Story Ever Told

4 Comments »

My Thoughts on Coronavirus

images

 

By now, everyone has been affected in some way by the coronavirus. People have gotten really sick, with most recovering, and some dying. Some people who tested positive never got sick at all. Most Americans, however, seem to be healthy and well.

Due to the spread of coronavirus around the world, countries began to shut their borders, institute quarantine and isolation procedures, promote education about the virus, social distancing, and economic lock down. Right now, the world is at a standstill.

Millions of people have been temporarily laid off or furloughed from their jobs. Others are working from home. People are anxious, restless, bored, and scared. What will happen next? Will things get better? Will they get worse? Will this virus be defeated? Will it come back again? Nobody can really give us an adequate answer.

Businesses — both large and small — are suffering. Will they be able to reopen? Or, will this shutdown put them out of business? Just yesterday, retailer Neiman-Marcus announced its plans to file bankruptcy. This will likely cost a lot of people their jobs.

The federal government has increased the national debt in its effort to help people weather the storm. And most of us are grateful for the extra money and support that the government is providing. But it’s only temporary. And the money only stretches so far. Rents and mortgages still have to be paid. Food still has to be bought. Life goes on.

Gun and ammunition sales are through the roof. Why? Because of the threat of increased crime and overreach by state and local governments. While convicted criminals are let out of jail, law-abiding citizens are forced to shelter in their homes, wear masks in public, and follow restrictive and unconstitutional mandates. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, for example, is prohibiting people from buying seeds, planting gardens, and hanging American flags. What do these normal activities have to do with preventing the spread of coronavirus? This kind of out-of-control power grab by politicians is sparking anger, protests, and demands to end the economic shutdown.

The mainstream media has fed into the hysteria by politicizing the crisis, deliberately spreading fear and chaos, and sensationalizing the number of cases and deaths. Politicians are at war with each other, pointing fingers, and deliberately spreading misinformation and lies. It’s an election year, folks! And that matters more than unifying and helping the country.

Then we have Bill Gates and the big tech companies wanting to stop people from working until they acquire a certificate that they test negative, have already recovered from the virus, or have been vaccinated. WTF? I feel sorry for anybody who doesn’t live up to their standards. And what made them the experts anyways? Bill Gates has a financial interest in all of this. And this is the guy who wants to reduce the human population by 15%. No, thank you, Mr. Gates! I’ll take a pass on any vaccine developed by you!

Liberal governors are also refusing to open up their states’ economies until some distant date in the future, out of fear that the coronavirus will reoccur. Come on, guys! People need to get back to work and back to a normal life as soon as possible. Standing in line for toilet paper happens in third world countries, not the good old USA!

On the positive side, people are finding a healthy appreciation for the things they have, the things they are missing, and the things they have lost, such as their love of family and faith in God. People are praying more and spending more time with their loved ones.

So, out of all the chaos, order will come. Out of all the fear, confidence will grow. And out of all the death and destruction, new life and hope will be restored. We are resilient people, after all.

Dawn Pisturino, RN

April 19, 2020

Copyright 2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

 

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: