Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Interference

November 8, 2019

*** Below is an entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The assignment was sci-fi, a woodshop, and a generator. I had 48 hours to complete the story. This is an example of a story that did not feel nearly as strong as my other entry, yet this one scored in 4th place. Just goes to show, you never know what a reader will respond to, so write what is in you to write***

Synopsis: A woman gains a strange partner in her experiments to find a bridge to other universes.

***

“I can’t find your money,” Makenzie said, fidgeting against her anxiety.

“I don’t care if you can’t find it, or if it disappeared, or if you never had it to give me,” Trevor spoke in measured tones, keeping his patience, “the facts are I acquired something you needed.”

“Yes,” she sighed.

“And when I acquired it for you, it wasn’t in demand, so I gave you more than ample time to pay me back,” Trevor paused, looking in her eyes. She held his steel grey eyes for a moment before looking towards the house, wishing she was inside with the screen door between them. “Kenz, we go way back, so I’m going to – ”

Makenzie brought her eyes back to Trevor when his words halted, noticing his attention focused over her shoulder. He looked between the shed’s window and Makenzie, confusion furrowing his brow. Before she could turn around to see what caught his attention, he shook his head and focused on her again.

“You have until tonight, Kenz. Then I’m taking it back.”

*

Makenzie kneaded the dough against the cracked counter, venting frustration that had soared in the hours since Trevor left.

Pausing to puff hair from her eyes, Makenzie peered out the kitchen window toward her laboratory. Lab might be a generous word. Woodshop was more accurate, complete with planers, saws, and chisels hanging from the low rafters. Despite lacking the research resources she had pre-war, Makenzie did not complain. She was lucky to find a property with two buildings.

Most houses stood empty after the State sponsored interstellar emigration, which meant the few who remained on earth had a large selection to live in. The war, however, had destroyed most properties with multiple buildings. Anything that could store weapons was targeted and destroyed by drones so numerous they had covered the sun in black clouds.

Six months ago she found this property while following old post office service maps. The house was in decent condition, and the shed structure was solid and independent from the main house’s power so her large amount of electricity use would go unnoticed by the State’s monitoring system. Makenzie’s next step was to find a power source.

A portable generator was perfect. The small machine didn’t produce much power on its own but connecting the generator to the rusting metal in the shed allowed her to conduct enough electricity. Things were as perfect as they could be.

Makenzie stopped to pull up pants that threatened to slide down her shrinking hips. Skimming money from her food allotment to pay for black market fuel and pay Trevor for the generator was getting painful. Her brain was shrinking along with her body.

Her cognitive loss was proven by her misplacing the money. That kind of slip was unforgiveable and may end her experiments just when she was about to have a breakthrough.

Putting the dough aside and wiping her hands, Makenzie walked to her back door, pushing her forehead against the glass to seek the dual moons. The appearance of the second moon a month ago was evidence that her calculations were correct.  She wasn’t cocky enough to think her shed-turned-portal was strong enough to pull through a moon, but the message was clear. The best time to build a bridge to another universe was now. She needed that generator to do it. Makenzie had to delay Trevor.

As if her thoughts had produced the man, Mackenzie watched Trevor slink from the road and across the yard. He glanced back at the house before pushing on the shed’s door, then kneeled and worked the lock with a lockpick. She watched and waited, holding her breath as he worked. Soon he was through the door and stepping into the pitch-black shed. The closing door released Makenzie from her spot. She picked up her flashlight and rifle before stepping through the door, leaping down the back steps two at a time.

Makenzie stopped at the door, listening for any movement inside before slipping into the shed. Silence greeted her. Turning on her flashlight, she moved the light around at chest level. Red glints of decomposing metal winked back, but she did not see Trevor.

Moving further into the shed, her foot hit something. The light moved down the wall and across the floor, first encountering a pool of reflecting liquid before hitting Trevor’s still body. Makenzie kneeled and felt Trevor’s neck, her hands becoming slick with his blood as she confirmed no pulse. She stood and turned away, pressing her forehead against the door. Makenzie took deep breaths to calm herself. Dead bodies were common after the war, but this was different.

With three more deep breaths, Makenzie reminded herself she was a scientist. Turning back around, she searched the body with the spot of light, seeking a theory to how he died. Red metal glinted on the floor, and Trevor’s neck showed deep cuts. Makenzie looked up at the rafters, several hooks swinging empty of their metal burden.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Makenzie saw a pair of shoes stepping from the deepest corner of the shed. She followed the shoes up a pair of shins, tracking up the torso, and shined the light into a face that made her gasp.

The other woman smiled and winked, held up a tin box, and then placed the box on the work bench. The box looked familiar, like a box from her childhood, but the details were wrong. She stepped around Trevor’s body as Makenzie stood up. Makenzie looked closely at the woman’s face, features that she knew well from a lifetime of seeing them reflected in mirrors. The woman wiggled her fingers, covered with Trevor’s blood, then turned and walked out the shed door. Halfway between the shed and the house, she disappeared.

Makenzie turned to the workbench and opened the tin box, finding more than enough money to continue her experiments.

 

Coming to terms

October 17, 2019

“Did you hear that?” Laurinda asks as silence pulls me from my dozing state.

My mom’s friend and I sit up at the same time, searching the dark recliner ten feet away. Gears activate in my mind, and I count measured seconds. I reach and pass 50 before Mom’s lungs pull and push one breath of air, followed by noiseless darkness pushing my eardrums.

For one heartbeat Laurinda and I look at each other across the dim room. In a synchronized dance choreographed by three days together in a death watch vacuum, we stand up and move over to my mother’s prone figure.

“I think it’s time,” she whispers.

I nod as I move behind my mom, leaning down to kiss her forehead before whispering “I love you.”

Another raspy breath. Two short gasps. Silence.

The hum of electricity invades my ears, threatening a headache with its roar. Darkness wraps my shoulders, an embrace that grows heavier with each passing moment. Air seeps into my nose, my lungs afraid to scratch the night with an inhale as time stretches and presses on me. While my chest suffocates in black ink, my fingers separate from my mind and search for Mom’s pulse.

Nothing.

I shake my head at Laurinda, my fingers caressing Mom’s jaw before I step back. Like a newly wound clock, I move down the hallway with silent but solid footsteps. A strong wind of deep snores occupies the guest room. Minutes tick in each second as I shake Susan’s shoulders, urging her from a sleep drawn from 36 hours of hurried traveling.

“Mom’s gone,” I whisper after my aunt jerks awake.

The silence has followed me into her room, squeezing my neck and shoulders as I step away from the bed. I move in staccato measures, returning to my mom.

My hand finds a phone and hospice’s card. My ears hear echos of my voice talking to the on-call nurse. One hour, she says.

“One hour,” I say to Susan and Laurinda as metal gears direct me towards the recliner that has been my bed for the last two nights.

“Michelle,” Laurinda says, “she’s no longer here, maybe you should, I don’t know, cover her?”

I look at Laurinda, her words taking a minute to ease through the black quilt stitched around my mind. Tick tock, I walk to my mom and pull up her blanket, covering an expressionless face. The task complete, the clock resets to focus on the recliner.

I sit down. I pop up the leg rests. I pull up the blanket, a brown dual sided throw my friend lent me during the first hospital stay. I pull my legs up to my stomach. I put the pillow on the arm rest. I set my head on the pillow. I close my eyes. Except to open the door to the nurse and the mortician, I do not move. I do not sleep.

The silence wins, sinking me into darkness as time stops.

*

On March 31st, my mom and I sat in an ER room, staring in silence at the doctor as she delivered results against the beeps of a heart monitor. A CT scan showed a mass emerging from Mom’s pancreas and partially blocking her intestine, plus what appeared to be numerous cysts or tumors in her abdominal cavity.

On April 24th a biopsy confirmed the tumor was malignant. At the time, there was only 7mm space for food to pass through the duodenum and past the tumor.

On May 1st, we sat with the surgical oncologist and discussed whether it was more important to begin chemo or perform a GI pypass surgery. At the time Mom was still eating small amounts of food and protein shakes.

On May 8th, at the first meeting with the medical oncologist, Mom was hospitalized for emergency surgery.

*

“Mom, you need to get out of bed and walk.”

“I hurt and I’m tired. Just let me rest.”

“Every doctor who comes in here says you need to get moving. That’s the only way for the stomach to start working and for you to eat again.”

“Enough. Let me be.”

*

Due to Mom’s lack of recovery after nearly two weeks, another CT scan was performed. Though the surgery appeared successful, the tumor was threatening the artery to the liver and Mom had a blood clot in her lung. Mom’s GI track was still not working.

During the GI bypass surgery, Mom had a GJ tube installed. It is common practice for cancers involving the GI system, as the gastrostomy tube (G) can bring relief to nausea by draining the stomach contents while the jejunostomy tube (J) can deliver nutrition, hydration, and medication during times when the patient feels no hunger.

The doctors began tube feeding through a GJ tube to increase Mom’s nutrition and strength heading towards chemotherapy. Around receiving tube feeds, Mom drained her stomach to a foley bag. Both the draining and feeding were temporary measures.

Mom was released from the hospital, beginning her chemotherapy sessions that week.

My routine: Wash hands. Put on gloves. Pour formula into a plastic bag. Attach tubing to plastic bag. Prime tubing to remove air. Attach bag and tubing to pump. Put pump and bag in backpack. Flush GJ tube with 100 ml of water. Attach feeding tube. Begin pump. Administer abdominal shot of blood thinner. Wash hands. Try to write for clients.

Two weeks later Mom began vomiting, a common occurrence with chemo so we did not question the symptom. By the end of the weekend the fluid we were pulling from the stomach portion of her GJ tube changed in color and consistency. Over the weekend we took Mom into the ER twice, and both times she was hydrated with saline and sent home. By Monday she started leaking fluid around the tube site in her abdomen, despite draining her stomach regularly. Tuesday we went to her oncologist appointment and ended up in the ER. Mom was diagnosed with acute kidney failure and severe blood shortage.

The first week of June, Mom was hospitalized again. We spent two nights in the ICU as Mom was pumped full of fluids and blood in attempts to recover kidney functioning.

Despite all appearances, the connection between Mom’s stomach and her small intestine healed like a valve. The feeding tube that was directed into her intestine flipped, causing her stomach to close. Mom’s stomach was a closed balloon, filling with liquid every 12 hours.

That was the first time I watched my mom escape death.

After a week in the hospital, we were sent home with Mom carrying the foley bag attached to her G tube. Her stomach was still not pushing anything down into the intestine, causing bile and stomach acid to build up. While in the hospital Mom had a port installed into her chest.

A lot of chemo patients end up getting ports, as it allows IV treatments without having to access veins every week. More importantly, the port gave me access to feed her via VPN (a bag of lipids, fluid, and essential nutrients) for twelve hours every night.

My routine: Wash hands. Put on gloves. Lay out all the necessary tubes, needles, and medication. Via syringe, add multivitamin to the lipid fluid bag. Mix. Set aside. Put battery into pump. Attached tubing to lipid bag, priming tube to ensure no air bubbles. Attach tubing to pump. Put bag and pump into backpack. Put on new sterile gloves. Uncap the access to my mom’s heart. Wipe with alcohol. Flush with saline. Attach lipid tubing. Start pump. Administer shot into abdomen. Pull off gloves. Get a glass of wine.

I emptied the foley bag attached to Mom’s stomach twice a day, mentally noting the volume. Mom was taking in 2400 ml of fluid per VPN, and she was venting 2400 ml by stomach every 24 hours. Intake of water by mouth: nominal.

We went to the ER twice for dehydration, once after Mom passed out when a friend was with her and resulting in a scalp injury that never quite healed. Another time they sent her to the main hospital for overnight watch, just to make sure she was okay due to heart irregularities.

Add to the routine: prescribed saline bags when hydration appears to decrease, approximately 1000 ml every other day.

Mid-July Mom went back to the original GI doctor who performed the biopsy. This time they put in a stint to prop open the connection between her stomach and intestine. He removed the tube for feeding, leaving only a G tube for infrequent venting purposes, and gave Mom permission to start experimenting with solid food. As the doctor said, the plumbing works fine now. We felt a mix of relief, hope, and a little confusion. Mom no longer needed to drain fluid from her stomach, and for the first time in two months she was free from a foley bag.

Add to routine: medicine to move the stomach and intestines. Medicine to block stomach acid to prevent stomach bleeding. Both administered via artery port.

*

“Do you want yogurt or apple sauce?”

“I don’t really want either.”

“Mom, now that your stomach is working you need to eat. If you don’t eat, your stomach won’t work anymore. The doctors have cleared you, no reason to not eat.”

“Fine. Yogurt. Then a protein shake.”

“Thank you. Are we going to take a walk outside today?”

“No. I’m tired.”

*

Mid-August we had completed three cycles of chemo. It was time for another scheduled scan on August 15th to gauge success of the treatment. We never made it to the scheduled scan. Instead, Mom went into the ER with sepsis. A CT scan was performed by the ER doctor, and the infectious disease doctors searched for a source. The scan showed the tumor had blocked Mom’s liver and gall bladder. No source confirmed, but suspicions were blockage of the bile system caused toxins to back up into the blood stream. CT scan also confirmed chemo was not working.

The medical oncologist talked to Mom about options, which were very few in his mind. For him, she needed to recover from sepsis and regain strength before he would discuss any additional treatments. Chemo was off the table. The type of chemo that was ineffective for Mom was proven to be the most effective with the least amount of side effects. Any other version would have more side effects with less likelihood of success.

As the doctor said, he felt it would be practicing bad medicine to submit Mom to the side effects with decreased chances of success.

We had a meeting with the hospital’s palliative team. The doctor explained why radiation was not an option for Mom, as well as reinforcing and supporting why her oncologist was not going to pursue other chemo options.

After five days, Mom went home with IV antibiotics. At her next appointment, she was tested for immunotherapy and gene therapy. The oncologist did not have much hope for either, but there was a chance.

Add to routine: once every 24 hours administer 30 minutes of antibiotic via port.

The prescription was for 7 additional days after the hospital. Only 6 days after her last dose, Mom returned to the ER for her second case of sepsis. I watched my mom’s skin turn jaundiced in the first 24 hours as they tried to pump her full of fluids per protocol.

While in the hospital, we learned Mom was not a candidate for immunotherapy or gene therapy. We spoke with Intervention Radiologists about installing a tube into the liver to drain it to an external foley bag, and we talked with the GI doctors about installing an internal stint for the liver to drain.

The GI procedure was not an option due to the tumor. The IR doctor was honest about the risks of tapping the liver and what it meant, including having a bag she would have to carry around. Mom asked if it would help her live longer. The response was it would make her more comfortable. Risks associated with the procedure, combined with Mom’s current health, had a high chance of killing her. We decided against the procedure.

About three nights into our stay, I mourned my mother. I laid in the recliner next to her hospital bed, covered in my friend’s brown blanket in my nightly hospital repose since the first surgery, sobbing silent tears.

Hospital plan: comfort.

Once again we were sent home with IV antibiotics. Knowing how sepsis works and with no recourse for the source, I watched the days bleed by until we didn’t have antibiotics any longer. My mom gained 60 pounds in a few days, water weight her body shucked into her cells and abdomen. After pulling herself off hospice, my mom went into see her oncologist. He understood if she did not want to utilize hospice, but there was nothing else he could do to help her. He would continue to put in medical orders, but his message was clear: her liver was going to kill her in only a few weeks.

Our summer had been a quiet summer of routine and sleeping, punctuated by medical appointments and hospitalizations. That ended, and the time vacuum began on my birthday, September 10th of 2019.

A few minutes after midnight on September 22nd, my mom passed away from pancreatic cancer complications.

Hollywood and inspirational videos paint cancer as a slow wasting away until the person falls asleep and never wakes up. And maybe that’s the case with other cancers. Not pancreatic cancer. I watched as my mom’s major bodily systems shut down one by one, creating toxicity and decay. Until her last breath, my mom sat in her recliner hoping a miracle would save her life. Her fear of death was strong, but the disease was stronger.

I never questioned moving in with her. I never doubted changing my family’s entire life to be with her. Every choice I made was based on each moment, supporting my mom in the way she requested. I became an encyclopedia of events and medical jargon, medications and procedures.

For six months I didn’t look further than the day I was living. I tried to meet the needs of a five year-old with the increasing needs of a previously independent mother. What had become my life’s purpose ended in one weekend. Since my mom’s death, I have drifted aimlessly. It is not the loss of my mom, though there are traumas I need to process. Death is a part of life, and life continues.

Rather, I’ve tried to reinsert myself into my previous life. I don’t fit anymore.

As I start the process of cleaning out her house and cleaning out my mind, four words continue to haunt my consciousness. The four words started six months ago, but now is the time for me to act on them. I only hope I hold onto what I’ve learned through this experience to avoid inactivity. Instead, I will consciously choose life.

After all, life is too short.

Morning Routine

August 13, 2019

She takes a sip and cringes.

Coffee is cold. She debates pouring a fresh cup, knowing she wastes at least 3/4 of the coffee she brews every morning. With a sigh, she stands to pour herself more, if only for routine comfort.

Hearing sounds of movement upstairs, she glances at the clock. The nighttime symphony of crickets was replaced hours ago with a chorus of waking birds. Now even the birds are hushed as the day heats up outside. Moving towards the fridge, she looks towards the family room windows, just to make sure she remembered to close up the house. An almost empty fridge offers up and takes back the milk from her hand, and she drags her willpower as she moves around the kitchen.

He coughs. She pauses.

The coughing subsides, replaced by her hand clinking the spoon against her mug’s edge. The fridge clunks as ice is pushed into the door bin, and she takes a sip. Lukewarm. She grimaces and disposes of the mug, the ceramic against porcelain echo going unnoticed as a plane flies overhead.

Her eyes pull towards the microwave clock again. She sighs. The vacuum of time sucks at her as the house settles back into the quiet hum of appliances. He is shuffling upstairs, starting his wheezing decent onto the main floor.

She looks at the breakfast waiting for him on the tv tray. Also cold. His days are starting later, and time is moving slower. She tries to coax minutes into moving by wiping the counter for a third time while his slippered feet scrape the hallway towards her. She turns as he steps into the kitchen, her expressionless face open to his weary one.

“Good morning,” she says, careful to not let him hear concern, though her eyes search his face and body for clues.

“Arhmf.” His response is part cough and part grumble as his cloudy eyes search the spotless counters.

“Next to your recliner.”

“Thanks,” he huffs, turning into the family room, “and my tea?”

“Same. Do you want me to heat them for you?”

“No.”

He sits down, the leather creaking under his shifting weight. Another coughing fit causes her muscles to tense, preparing her to move in a heartbeat. The hacking halts, followed by shuddering breaths and throat clearing. She leans against the counter, waiting. His breathing returns to normal, and she relaxes.

He falls asleep, and the silence deepens. Her eyes drift towards the window over the sink, watching trees move with muted wind. She pulls oxygen deep into her lungs, turning to look at the digital clock before letting the air murmur past her lips. The stillness of a tomb pushes at her eardrums.

She picks up the kitchen rag, wiping at the counter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing the Water

July 20, 2019

*** Once again I am participating in NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge. The assigned flash fiction is romance/reservoir/bagel, and I had 48 hours to write the story. Feedback is always welcome and wanted. Please enjoy!*** 

Synopsis: A woman learns to trust her intuition and the potential of love from an unexpected source.

The ceiling fan clicks above me, doing little to cool my heated skin.

I hear his panting slow as my own breathing returns to normal. For a few minutes I lay still, unwilling to disturb the rare quiet in my mind. As my internal monologue restarts, I am stuck with awkward indecision. Do I stretch my limbs and succumb to sleep that is pushing at my consciousness, or do I slide out of his bed and fake confidence as I pull on my clothes? Choosing the safest option, I sit up and lean towards the edge of the mattress.

“Please, don’t go,” he whispers, placing his hand on the small of my back.

I shove down the giggle that bubbles up from my stomach, lying down and curling up on my side facing away from him. He scoots closer but leaves space, the only contact between us is his hand resting on my waist. My back relaxes, and soon I am asleep.

***

“It’s time you get on with your life, get out and date,” Gillian says, “You wasted five years with Jack, don’t waste any more.”

I meet my best friend’s eyes across the picnic table before breaking contact to look around the party. In general, I don’t like spending time at reservoirs. The water smells, and people mingle in chaos with the ability to disappear without warning.

“I’m over Jack. That’s not the problem,” I reply, “The problem is I don’t trust my intuition, and I don’t trust people. Trust is kind of important.”

Gillian sighs before saying, “yes, you are right. But how do you starting swimming again if you refuse to get within 100 feet of the water?”

***

“Hey, how are you?” he asks, leaning over me.

I want to answer that I don’t know what to do with my body, that I am a bundle of anxiety, that my heart is going to run from my chest and hop a train far away from him.

Instead, I answer, “I’m good.”

“You hungry?” he asks, searching my face and staying on his side of the bed as I try to hide my face from his eyes.

Those eyes. Those amber orbs that make the world disappear. Those golden irises that shine from his olive-skinned face like sunshine glinting off quartz in beach sand. I glance up at him and smile, nodding my consent. He flashes his dimples, then his eyebrows come together in a slight frown.

“You’ll be here when I get back?”

I nod again.

***

“What about him?” Gillian asks, pointing as she warms up to her new game.

“Nah, lunkhead,” I reply, barely looking.

“Okay, what about him?”

I roll my eyes at Gillian, tiring of her insistent desire that I have a one-night stand to dip my toe into the water. I stop listening to her as she rambles about the positive attributes of each male, my eyes scanning the ever-increasing crowd with a sense of dread. I notice a group that just beached their catamaran, and I watch them pull their sails and wrestle the sailboat further up the beach.  One man looks in my direction, and I am arrested by a pair of eyes looking into my soul.

“Him,” I whisper.

Gillian stops mid-sentence to look towards the boat. She looks at me, and then back at him, before shaking her head.

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why not?” I ask, struggling to turn my attention back to her.

“He’s not a dip your toe kind of guy,” she replies, shaking her head, “he’s a jump in the middle of the ocean with no lifeboat or life jacket kind of guy.”

I don’t hear her warning.

***

After 15 minutes of tossing and turning, a knot forming in my stomach, I get out of bed and put on my clothes. I walk around his apartment; self-consciously aware I am a stranger. I pick up a photograph of a younger him, his arms around a young woman with them looking at each other and laughing. My heart hopes she is a sister or a childhood friend, but the tiny voice gains ground and whispers it’s a girlfriend.

I move past the photographs, trying to avoid the feeling like I’m intruding on his life. I read the spines of books. I look out the window. I stare at the microwave clock, willing time to pass. I try to not listen to the voice saying he is regretting me, he is regretting his choice, he is taking a long time hoping I will give up and leave before he gets back. The anxiety becomes too much, and I grab my purse.

I hear the key in the door, and I freeze.

He walks into the apartment, unaware of me for the first few moments, and I watch him as he deadbolts the door and moves into the kitchenette. He feels my gaze and looks towards me. In one moment, his glance takes in my body posture and purse.

“Leaving?” he asks, his brows furrowing.

“Um, I wasn’t sure,” I stutter.

“Here, I have bagels and coffee,” he offers, lifting the drink carrier in his hand towards the bag he put on the counter.

“What kind?” I ask, moving through molasses as the air in the room thickens.

“You seem like an Everything kind of girl,” he replies, watching me.

Something pops in my chest, and my lungs pull in air for the first time since I woke up. I grin, avoiding his eyes.

“How did you guess?”

He shrugs. I move closer to the bagels, the smell of freshly baked bread and caffeine warming my stomach. He hands me one of the coffees, his fingers brushing mine. As I take my first sip, I close my eyes and sigh with contentment. When I open them, he is in front of me. He leans forward and gives me a gentle kiss on my lips.

“Thanks for staying.”

I relax into his eyes and smile.

Weekly Visit

July 12, 2019

We avoid looking at each other.

He stares at the floor, his eyes not seeing the worn wood grain or the edges of dust creeping into sight from under the furniture. My eyes run laps around the room, no longer noticing the unmoved books and tiny mementos of a life now receding into the crumbling memories of his mind.

Click click click

The overhead fan keeps time, reminding us of each passing second. The chain hits a single light shade with a steady violence, distracting me as I ponder how the fan does not break from its thin metal anchor and spin through the living room window. The dam in my chest breaks as if the propelled fan had driven into my heart, and I stand with buzzing anxiety.

He doesn’t move. Not a look. Not a twitch.

The bookcase draws me, her figurines tempting my restless fingers. I pick up an angel, her shoulders brown with neglect.

“Do. Not. Touch,” his words ring out like gun shots, startling me. My fingers dance, trying to keep the delicate porcelain from cracking against the shelf before easing the angel back onto its clean spot amidst the grey blanket of disregard.

“You know, I can clean…,” I squeak past the lump that forms in my throat every time I walk past the house’s threshold.

“No! Leave me alone!”

His red eyes stare at me from below his unkempt hair, his hand bringing down the now empty tumbler hard on his TV tray.

I visualize shouting at him, full of adult anger and frustration, to pull himself out of his whiskey cloud and accept that she is gone. I imagine balling up my fists, stomping my feet, and screaming at the top of my lungs like a petulant five-year old that he is a selfish bastard and not the only one in pain. I envision throwing my arms around his legs like a little girl, sobbing out my heartbreak as I beg for him to see that I miss her too, with every cell in my body.

Instead, I clear my throat. I look at the clock on the wall. I put my hands in my pockets. I pace around the room, trying to run away from memories that stare at me from every object and catch me in every corner. His eyes return to the floor, his fingers twitching on his glass.

“Um, well,” I whisper against the clink of the chain and his rejection.

“Isn’t it time for you to go,” he states, releasing me from my indecision.

“Yeah,” I pull myself together, “I put enough food for the week in the fridge, and your snacks are in the pantry. I leave for a business trip on Wednesday, but I will be back Friday and will come by Saturday.”

I pick up my keys and walk towards the door. My back receives his reply, “don’t bother.”

Taking a deep breath I call out, “I love you, Dad,” before closing the solid front door against sounds of a television coming to life.

I listen as her breathing deepens, sleep taking its hold despite her 5 year-old arguments against being tired. Propping myself up on my elbow, my eyes trace her black eyelashes against her round expressionless cheeks. I push a strand of hair off her eyebrow as I look down at my daughter, using the barest of touches so my callouses do not wake her.

At peace in her sleep, I can see the infant who curled against my chest and huddled in my arms. Her lips purse in the beginnings of a dream, reminding me of the stubborn two year-old. I can see all that she has been up to this point, just as I see inklings of who she will be as she gets older.

The radio on the desk behind me beeps to life.

I ease away from the small sleeping form, closing the bedroom door as I step into the hall. Crossing to my mom’s bedroom, I look in as she struggles to sit up in bed.

“Mom, you okay?” I ask, moving across the room to stand close enough to offer an arm, facing her huddled form.

“Can’t get comfortable,” she mumbles.

“How about we sit you up a little more with pillows, or maybe lay on your side?” I suggest, starting my steps in the nightly dance.

“Um hm.”

We stand her up so I can arrange the pillows for her head and back, then edge her into a half sitting position. Grimacing, she fidgets until she finds the perfect spot, her face easing into relief.

I pull the blanket up to her chest, check the water level in her bottle, and turn to exit the bedroom assuming the dance is complete for two more hours.

“Come cuddle in bed?” a whisper floats over my shoulder.

I glance back as I take two more steps away from my mom. Tired, I am focused on laying down and closing my eyes. I turn away, then I stop. I look back at her small body in the large room, then I walk back across the carpet and crawl onto the other side of the queen size adjustable bed.

With the delicacy of handling a newborn infant, I take her bony hand into mine. My fingertip traces the multiple bruises, evidence of heavy blood thinners and multiple IV sticks. Settling down a little more into the hole created by the bed with both the back and knees elevated, I look out the window towards the mountains.

“I regret not hugging you more while growing up,” my mom whispers a breeze of words while I watch clouds blow across the horizon, “I was just so busy.”

Before they gain weight, I force down the habitual retorts built of sadness that show themselves as anger and resentment. I replace the words with thoughts of my own daughter in the next room; all the times she’s plied and I’ve replied in a minute, I’m busy, not right now.

I take a deep breath, settling my head closer to Mom’s shoulder, my cheek barely touching the bones underneath her cotton shirt.

My eyes wander the room, looking at the dressers with missing knobs and off angle mirrors. Furniture that has existed in my mom’s various bedrooms as long as i can remember, changing in appearance but not structure as I grew in height and awareness.

I listen as her breathing deepens, sleep taking its hold.

I push a strand of hair back from her eyebrow.

As her mind falls farther into sleep, I see the faintest signs of the mother I knew growing up and even as recent as a few months ago. Mostly I see my grandmother a few weeks before she died, her sleeping mouth open and cheeks gaunt as her lungs struggled to pull in ragged breaths with cells damaged from decades of smoking.

I ease away from my mom’s still form, resting her hand on her restructured and healing stomach. I kiss her brow, whisper I love you, and crawl off the bed. I stop at the door, looking back at her as she moans in her dreams.

I take a deep breath, holding my lungs at capacity as I cross to the room containing my innocent daughter. Without waking her, I edge back onto the bed and place my arm around her. Kissing her forehead, I hold her, squeezing my eyes against hot tears.

Just Wrap It Up

April 30, 2019

“These are not silver,” he says, looking at me.

“We know. They were gifts. We want silver necklaces so we can wear them,” I respond, smiling at his earnest expression.

The young vendor polishes my mom’s charm with a soft cloth until it shines, stringing it on a chain we selected, and hands it to her to try on.

“How much per necklace?” I ask as my mom looks in the mirror.

“120,” he says as he pulls two more from his inventory. An older woman walks into the tiny corner shop and sits behind us, waiting for her turn.

“Dirhams?” I ask while Vivian tries to crawl up my body and into my arms.

As he nods, I convert to dollars in my head while I look closely at the chains. We would pay more than his asking price at a box store in the States for this style and quality of chain. From my newly formed habit, I counter.

“250 for three.”

He glances at his inventory in contemplation. I imagine he is adding the amount per chain and the profit left to him depending on the price he makes from us. He lifts his chocolate eyes, and for a few seconds that stretch to the edge of discomfort we hold eye contact.

“Okay,” he replies.

My right eyebrow twitches upward as I smile in disbelief, “really?”

He laughs and replies, “yes, for you,” before turning back to his task.

I watch the light catch a silver skull on his left ring finger as his lean fingers begin stringing the other two charms and packaging them in jeweler’s bags. What just happened?

*

I’ve been back from Morocco for just over a week, and I’m struggling to write the final articles about my trip.

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Looking at goldfish

I could write about the last two days in Marrakech, full of sights and sounds that made me fall in love with the desert city, despite being pro-mountain-anti-desert my whole life. I could go into detail about Jardin Majorelle, a lush garden that includes a memorial for Yves St. Laurent, or maybe talk about the black and blue purse I almost bought at a price you could not find in the U.S.

Although I do not use purses, my creative side wanders into fashion from time to time. Purses, shoes, and dresses will find their way into my world as my eyes focus on aesthetics for a short time. Only for my eyes to wander away again, leaving my closet full of items that I have no purpose for.

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I felt no need for a purse, despite it’s beauty in pattern and construction, so the purse remains in the St. Laurent store next to the Berber museum in the middle of Majorelle.

I could talk about how I grabbed bartering with both hands, gaining confidence in my skills using price estimation that I learned from watching Price is Right.

Our travel companion had a couple spots in her house where she wanted to hang an art item, but she hates bartering. We came up with a plan where she would decide what she wanted, tell me the most she wanted to spend, and I would barter for her. The system worked well, and I gained confidence in my ability to navigate shopping in the souks.

In fact, I started enjoying the game of bartering. Despite reading on other blogs about the aggressive nature of bartering in Marrakech, I never faced any aggression. Of course, my nature is not aggressive, and if I didn’t know how much I was willing to pay for something, I left it in the shop. My objective of the game was not to get basement prices but to reach a comfortable compromise.

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Say “St. Laurent”

Our travel companion now has an antique leather writer’s bag to hang on her wall, a door knocker that she will re-purpose as a nail for the purse, and a few other odds and ends at less than she was willing to spend. I have a new skill and confidence in my adaptability.

My mom’s purchases while she travels are usually limited to magnets and tree ornaments. Though most were at low prices anyway, I still bartered for her. Bartering gave shopping a purpose for me. Normally, I find very little purpose in window shopping or buying knick knacks. In fact, I am not a shopper, unless I know what I want. In which case, I go in (to the store or online), find exactly what I envision, and get out.

I could talk about how my mom, Vivian, and I got a map from the hotel and walked through the streets of Casablanca to the souk in search of necklaces for some khamsa charms we were given in Marrakech. My mom felt they were perfect for us to wear as we face her health issues; instead of waiting to look when we were State side, we decided to see what the vendors of Casablanca had to offer.

I could even talk about how the last few days of our vacation finally satisfied my wandering spirit as we moved freely through Marrakech and Casablanca.

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Welcome home

Instead, I’m left wordless at all that I experienced as coming home became a journey back into the cave. Two hours in the customs line at Dulles, surrounded by concrete and glass, made me doubt I was supposed to come home, and this past week my psyche has struggled against the flood of routine stress that awaited me.

Of course, vacations done well are as we intend them to be: an escape from our every day lives. Though, I wish I could say Morocco was a complete escape. The largest source of anxiety right now, my mom’s health, came with us to Morocco. As did my overthinking tendencies.

Despite being on vacation, Morocco changed me. Not in any fundamental way. I did not “find” religion in Morocco. No country or life experience will change my belief system. Nor did Morocco make me not American, less inclined towards overthinking, or ease my generalized anxiety.

What I found in Morocco was a country where people have a general respect for different cultures and backgrounds. The people I came in contact with were genuinely caring, even the “usual suspects” that other blogs warn to stay away from. Also, I found something I’ve searched for my entire life: a rich tableau of the human experience. Eons of history and humanity laid down together in a multi-dimensional sculpture of flavors, colors, sounds, and textures. I found a place where I grew comfortable in my skin, despite being different in almost every way possible.

I’m having a hard time returning home.

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Last view of Morocco

Marrakech Opens It’s Doors

April 24, 2019

“Is this our home for a few days?” she asks while looking at me with exhausted eyes.

“Yes, sweetheart,” I reply as I dump clothes full of desert sand in a large copper bathtub, readying for my back for the strain of doing laundry over a rim set three feet high.

“Do they have a playground?”

“No,” I stop what I am doing and look at my daughter. Her eyes are tired and lost, eyes that have stared at knees while overwhelmed by sights, sounds, and cultural differences.

I pick her up, holding her tight against me. “You know what comes next?” I whisper into her ear.

She shakes her head.

“We stay here for three nights, then we go back to the room that had the really big bathtub that you played in, and then we take a plane,” I pull my head back to look into her eyes.

“You mean we are going home?” a small smile pulls at the corners of her mouth.

“Yes, after this city. Now, do you want to help me do laundry?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she squeals, kicking to be released from my arms.

I am not ready to leave this country or end the experience, but my daughter has said goodbye to two things in two days that she has enjoyed. She is ready for her routine. Playing washer woman with mom is a good second place situation now that she knows what to expect.

*

Today was the assigned day with our guide in Marrakech. We started with what has become a typical breakfast spread, complete with coffee, bread and pastries, and an egg if we want one.

For the first time the entire trip, my mom ate a full meal. She seemed ready to take on the heat of the day, though neither of us were really prepared for standing in queue after queue in the desert sun. Our travel companion chose to stay behind at the riad, as long as I could guarantee we would get into the markets.

I am ready to take on the souks and wander freely, so that guarantee was easily given.

Marrakech has similarities to Los Angeles, in that the city itself was chosen for location but had a complete lack of water. The solution for Marrakech is underground aqueducts running water from the High Atlas Mountains.

Named the Pearl of Morocco, Marrakech has code regulations regarding appearance and height of buildings. All buildings must be painted pink, and there cannot be a building taller than the spire of the Koutaubia Mosque. So unlike Casablanca, there are no high rise apartments.

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Original foundation of the mosque next to the current building

Our first stop was the Koutaubia Mosque, where we stood with reams of people pouring from tour buses to sit in the baking sun. We walked around to the front of the mosque, looking at the vendor art before deciding to move onward.

There was one vendor that caught my attention, which then brought about my mom’s attention. The man had painted on a small animal hide, then stretched the hide in a frame, creating an open frame concept around amazing artistry. I chose to move on, though my mom contemplated a purchase.

She passed it up, though I have a feeling we will be back.

The next stop was the Saadian Tombs. Another example of beautiful handcrafted Moroccan artisan work with plaster and wood, the tombs were buried for 400 years in the middle of Marrakech. It wasn’t until the early 20th Century when a pilot saw the tombs from the air that the city realized an amazing historical artifact was sitting right in front of them under a pile of sand.

Apparently, a king didn’t like his people traveling to Marrakech to pay homage. It wasn’t about who was in the tombs; it was about his people should stay home and pay homage to him only. So the tombs were buried, and now people stand for hours in queue to lean in at the edge and see the beautiful interior.

Of course, Vivian was more interested in the turtle who was minding its own business, trying to avoid the sun.

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Main chamber of the Saadian Tombs

After the tombs, we walked through the souks (markets) on our way back to our riad. Unlike the medina in Fez, Marrakech’s medina and souks have slightly wider avenues, providing better landmarks for us to find our way. As we walked back to our riad, my mom and I were taking note of the landmarks that will help us navigate the next two days.

The largest difference in Marrakech compared to where we’ve been so far is the number of tourists. Chefchaouen was crowded with tourists, but tour buses couldn’t reach the small medina and the riads were incapable of handling the traffic. So tourism was limited to smaller parties.

While we stayed in a hotel with larger tour groups in Fez, we were not as exposed to the huge tour groups as we moved around the medina, due to size and access. In fact, Arfoud was the first time I really felt completely surrounded by tourists, but it was only one resort and we stayed very little time.

As we made our way over the mountains, the number of tour buses on the road increased exponentially. All to arrive in Marrakech, apparently.

The souks were filled with tourists, donned in their summer attire of shorts and tank tops and naked midriffs, exposing their fleshy white skin. At one point, I randomly stated “I would not be comfortable,” to which our travel companion just stared at my burst of words.

I shook off her curiosity, explaining I have a tendency to blurt words mid-thought without any connection. Which is true, I admit.

The reality is I dress modestly in my every day life because genetics have gifted me with pale ginger tendencies that do not respond to sun other than to burn, and I don’t feel that anyone should be subjected to the blindness inducing organ that is my skin. However, before coming to Morocco I researched the country’s standards of dress so I wouldn’t be too offensive, despite my lack of head covering, shorter sleeves, and American accent.

After nearly two full weeks in more conservative areas, I was overwhelmed by how the tourists were dressed.

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Vivian’s friend

Dinner involved a restaurant across from the Koutaubia Mosque, where I was assigned responsibility for handling the language barrier between our server and the rest of our travel party. The server had a horrible evening as I watched all his tables fill in the space of five minutes, after which he was subjected to an American and Australian yelling for not understanding their drink order. A drink that was not on the menu, no less.

I am a firm believer that a smile and a thank you goes a long way in this life in helping overcome barriers. This vacation has affirmed that belief.

Despite the confusion and chaos, I felt comfortable and in my element. So much so we navigated through the night performers in the square and into the medina despite most of our landmarks disappearing with the setting sun.

Tomorrow we will visit the Majorelle Gardens where there is a berber and Yves St. Laurent museum (odd combination, if you ask me) and will spend our afternoon on our own in the market. I’m finally wandering and absorbing, though I feel Vivian might be holding on by a thread.

Navigation Gets Solid Footing

April 17, 2019

I turn the collection of memories in my mind, a large tile with color and nuance, texture and depth. My brain decides it’s too large to fit the mosaic that has tiles added every day.

So it starts chipping away, like the workers in Fez, shaping the tile into a smaller piece that will have it’s place in the overall experience. Wait, no! I want that memory!

My brain doesn’t listen, chipping and shaping in a predesignated pattern only it understands as I struggle to hold onto pieces turning to dust.

No, please don’t take that part, I loved that part.

I’m on my knees, tile shards slipping through my fingers as I try holding onto the full picture of smiles and laughs, comments and impressions. With tears in my eyes, I look up at the mosaic in front of me and see only bits and pieces left.

A quirk of a smile and lift of an eyebrow. A giggle of enjoyment at a loose tooth. A patient wrist stirring chocolate into milk. Sunlight warming my face. The burn of tears as I face my mom’s health. Deep eyes sad with goodbye. Regret and loss.

Fez has a small place in the overall mosaic in my mind, pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of information that has been added since then.

My heart hurts. This is not fair.

I mourn the tiny pieces I am allowed, especially since my heart has left a large chunk of it in the old city filled with tradition and history.

*

Today we left the oasis in the middle of Skoura, heading towards Marrakech. The last few days have been the hardest on all of us, as we have moved every night, journeyed through the desert – on a camel with no nameand found a small respite within an oasis of familiarity and comfort.

The changes every night have been particularly trying for Vivian, and this morning she had a hard time leaving the one place she felt was designed for her. Bad enough I made her leave the desert yesterday, but today she had to leave a playhouse and playground as well.

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Lost tooth

Even the excitement of a loose tooth is gone, as the tooth came out with an apple bite yesterday as we journeyed from Todgha Gorges to Skoura.

Today we started our tour in Ouarzazate, the cinema capital of Morocco. Movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Gladiator were filmed there, and we spent a few minutes walking through the movie sets.

Though movie sets in general don’t interest me, since they are fake, Vivian had a breakdown and needed some focused time. So she and I played hide and seek, tag, and a few other games that wouldn’t interfere with the environment.

Mom and our travel companion cared very little for spending much time at the movie sets, so we were leaving about the time the larger tour buses full of people started showing up.

Then we began our ascent up into the High Atlas Mountains. The road was narrow with switch backs and questionable drivers. Our driver navigated the stress of a lot of drivers with very little road as we moved towards the tallest point in Morocco.

We stopped for lunch at the summit, where Vivian had cheese pizza once again. Our driver communicated my mom’s eating situation, so we were able to get a smaller tailored lunch for her, as well. Unlike my travel companions, I have developed a particular taste for some traditional Moroccan cuisine, such as Couscous aux legumes (vegetable couscous) and the variety of ways they cook eggplant.

Unfortunately, the tangine cooked meal was only available if you called ahead, so I ate cheese pizza with Vivian.

Then we began our descent towards Marrakech with road construction added to the mass amounts of traffic and a tiny road. In an attempt to straighten and widen the road, they are digging out parts of the mountains. Unlike the States where mountain roadwork tends to occur in five mile increments, Morocco is working on the entire northern side of the mountains at one time.

According to our driver, they’ve been working on it for 6 years and there is only one stretch of about half a mile that is finished.

Once we reached the foothills, it was an uninteresting and flat drive into the Marrakech. We knew we had reached the city when we started seeing golf courses and pink hotels. Our driver informed us that the city itself has over 50 golf courses with each resort having their own, plus the royal golf course that is a public course.

The reason it is named the Royal Golf Course is because the previous king was an adamant golfer, not as I assumed that it was reserved for those who are of the royal entourage.

Since I’m more comfortable with our driver by this point, I started asking more questions about the monarchy. Finally, he said “Michelle, I cannot answer these questions.” This is not the first time he’s ignored or sidestepped a question I’ve asked, which doesn’t offend me.

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Laundry time

After all, I’m pretty sure I’m still violating norms and certain ways things are handled here without realizing it. However, I have gained more grasp of saying hello and thank you in Arabic, as well as how to navigate without too many overt issues.

As we moved further into the city, I could sense how Marrakech is unlike anywhere else we’ve been so far. First, there are far more tourists and tour buses here, and the tourists do very little to adapt how they dress or act. Second, the entire vibe is an urban, bustling modern city vibe.

While my sentimentality seems to be solidly in Fez, I can see Marrakech will be where I can come into my own as far as comfort and self direction.

In fact, other than our guided tour tomorrow, our plan is to forgo the additional six hours of driving to the seaport of Essaouira and focus on meandering the souks (markets). Our travel companion has wanted to wander and shop for almost the entire trip, and it appears in Marrakech we will be allowed the freedom to move at will.

And if we aren’t allowed, I will take it. Tonight I googled a map of the old city and where we are located, and I’ve been marking landmarks since our walk into the medina. At this point, I will pop any bubble so I can get some wandering in.

Washing Off Peace in an Oasis

April 12, 2019

“I want to quit my job,” he says through the crackling of shaky wifi.

I pause for a beat, then ask, “and do what?”

“I don’t know. Not work. Not have stress,” he replies.

The bottom of my heart has been sliced open, and blood is draining into my stomach. “Do you want me to find a full-time job and you can quit?” I ask around the olive pit that just formed in my throat.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

“We’ll talk when I get home,” I say before saying goodbye as Vivian pulls on my arm.

Later at night my thoughts begin to circle in my head, and anxiety builds on itself. I think of the time spent earning the equivalent of minimum wage ghost writing for the few hours Vivian is in school or late at night. The time spent struggling to get her moved from school to dance while cleaning and shopping and cooking. The stress about paying bills and being pulled apart from every direction on few hours of sleep.

From the noise in my head, my commitment to my mom about going to every doctor’s appointment emerges.

I shut my eyes against hot tears of frustration and hopelessness.

*

Today started with me walking through the stillness, my feet moving as much backwards as forward in the deep sand. In silence, Vivian and I sat on a chair facing the East. The wind wound her hair in ribbons past my face as my scarf billowed towards the North. Mists of sand crested the dune next to us, settling in rivulets as it fell on the leeward side.

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Vivian tries to leave her mark, but it disappears quickly

At first I tried to keep the chair from sinking into the sand dune, but with both me and Vivian sitting on a small metal chair, the effort was wasted.

In silence we watched the sky turn pale blue in preparation, mixing small amounts of white until an orange line broke across the sky.

The sun cleared the horizon, bathing the sand for another day. For one moment I am breathless, and Vivian is still. The world stopped moving, and nothing and everything existed in one moment of time.

Unfortunately, the night was long and filled with the wind howling against the side of our tent. Vivian woke talking about dreams of monsters shaking the tent, and I explained about the wind. After watching the sunrise, we moved towards the dining tent for our breakfast.

Breakfast for me consisted mostly of coffee. My eyes felt as if the entire Sahara’s worth of sand was behind my eyelids. And it looked as if my mom and our travel companion weren’t moving any time soon.

Which proved to be accurate. Our 4×4 driver came to pick us up around breakfast time, and the three of us waited for over an hour as the other two gathered themselves together. Apparently the 4×4 plus camel ride caused our travel companion to have an injury to her leg. My mom is not sleeping, nor is she eating, so she is not doing well in the mornings in general.

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My little camel

While I walked around the camp, trying to absorb the last amounts of peace I could before we faced another long drive, Vivian pretended to be a camel on top of a sand dune. Our driver occupied himself by filling a water bottle full of desert sand for Vivian.

One by one, the other parties of the camp climbed into their Land Rovers, heading onward in their vacations. Finally, the two emerged from their tent ready to face another day.

Vivian didn’t want to leave the desert. In fact, she would have been content playing on the sand dune for another few days. Several times she was asked if she wanted to stay by the various people around us, and her reply was she didn’t have the right clothes. She said she would need their robe and turbans in order to live in the desert with them.

Though she told that to only me after they smiled and turned away. Vivian still barely responds to the people who engage with her.

Since we were last to leave, our driver was given a pair of glasses forgotten by another party within the camp. We took off across the dunes, following no set road other than our driver’s sense of where he was. We crossed another camp where initially we were to drop off the glasses. Instead, we picked up a pair of earrings as our vehicle slowly drove a circle around a man who was standing and talking to him.

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Since we were the last group from the furthest camp, we had the honor of sweeping up. I watched in fascination at the efficiency in which we relayed the two items to another truck in the middle of the desert, neither vehicle stopping to prevent sinking in the sand. Each vehicle slowed to a crawl as items were handed across open windows. The other truck turned, heading off in another direction as our driver turned us towards our rendezvous point with our regular driver at his hotel.

Once settled in our regular van, we turned toward Skoura in a long drive that would take us past ksars and a gorge where we could see their irrigation in play. Also, we stopped by a site to see the old irrigation system of Morocco.

Since above ground aqueducts would cause too much water loss from evaporation, they dug channels under ground from the mountains into the desert. In order to create a natural pump, they dug holes 30 feet deep in the ground which would create air pressure to move the water.

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A very deep and old hole

Morocco has long since used generators and modern technology, but it was fascinating to see the miles of holes in a straight line from the mountains. So many man hours and innovation to irrigate agriculture in areas without water.

After a few stops at the Togha Gorges and for lunch, we reached our destination in Skoura. Our travel companion thought we were heading directly to Marrakech, which was too far from our desert stay for a one day drive. She kept asking our driver where he was taking us, to which he responded “an oasis.”

Driving down tight roads with corners our van could barely navigate, we reached our riad for the night. The land was purchased by a Dutch tour guide and her French husband 20 years ago and originally contained a grove of 6 date trees.

Since then they have literally created an oasis. Once we walked through the gates, we were welcomed by lush turf grass, tall trees, and pathways that meandered through various sitting areas. Our hostess gave us a tour, asked if we had any interest in swimming in the pool, and then showed me and Vivian where they had a play area with a slide and trampoline.

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Perfect place for Vivian

As excited as Vivian was about the slide, she was more interested in the free standing tree house that was near the horse pen. She played in the tree house until dinner. allowing me and my mom to take turns with a very hot shower to wash away the desert dust that had settled into every crevice.

The meal was well done with a crackling fire next to us and french music mixed with Frank Sinatra overhead. I felt very far from the desert, even as I walked along the lantern lit pathways to our room.

I am struggling with the paradox my mind has seen over the last few nights. Having gone from a family resort to the desert to this enclave oasis in the middle of nowhere, I am moving on autopilot and Vivian is struggling to maintain stability. We are on the downhill side of our trip, and I sense reality will be rushing towards us faster than I want.

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